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Special History Study 

May 1994 

The Evolution of Transportation 
in Western Pennsylvania 

United States Department of the Interior • National Park Service • Denver Service Center 

Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2012 with funding from 

LYRASIS IVIembers and Sloan Foundation 


Acknowledgements v 
Foreword vii 
Introduction 1 

I. The Origins of Transportation: Early Footpaths and Roads 5 

II. Internal Improvements: River Navigation and Canal Building 41 

III. A Transportation Revolution: Railroads and the Rise of an Industrial Order 81 
rV. Transportation in the Automobile Age: Highways, Turnpikes, and Interstates 123 




Indian Paths to 1750 13 

Middle British Colonies in An^erica* 15 

Competition in the Trans-Appalachian West, ca. 1610-1754 23 

Communication and Transportation Routes, 1810-1836 31 

Rivers, Canals, and Railroads, 1825-1840 59 

Major Railroads in Western Pennsylvania, ca. 1860-1930 95 

Highways — 1913 to Present 129 


Figure 1: Daniel Boone Escorting Settles Through Cumberland Gap 1 

Figure 2: Braddock's Defeat 39 

Figure 3: An Early Engraving from the Perspective of Mt. Washington 39 

Figure 4: Pennsylvania Main Line Canal — Canal Basin and Weigh Lock at Johnstown 78 

Figure 5: Pennsylvania Main Line Canal — First Aqueduct Over the Little Conemaugh River, 

Johnstown 78 
Figure 6: Steamboat Engraving 79 

Figure 7: Coal Barges and Steamboats at the Forks of the Ohio 79 
Figure 8: The Aftermath of the Great Strike of 1877, Pittsburgh 104 
Figure 9: After the Great Strike of 1877 104 

Figure 10: Remains of the Lower Engine House, 26th Street, Pittsburgh 105 
Figure 11: Spectators Taking in the Sights in the Wake of the Strike 105 
Figure 12: Pennsylvania Railroad Freight Train Rounding the Horseshoe Curve 120 
Figure 13: One of the Roundhouses at the Altoona Shops of the Pennsylvania Railroad 120 
Figure 14: Locomotive Crane. Juniata Shops, Altoona, PA, 1949 121 
Figure 15: Metal Yard No. 1. Altoona Works, 1913 121 
Figure 16: Car Inspection Pit at the Altoona Works, 1930 122 
Figure 17: Section Gang 122 

Figure 18: Route #350 Near Tyrone, Blair County, PA 142 
Figure 19: Clear Ridge Cut, October, 1940 142 
Figure 20: Excavation for the Foundation of the U.S. Steel Building, Pittsburgh, 1966 143 

Courtesy of Historical Collection and Labor Archives, Pennsylvania State University. 



A number of people assisted in the completion of this document. The team wishes to thank 
Randall Cooley, Karl King, and the staff of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Heritage 
Preservation Commission; Jeanette Eisenhart of the Pattee Library, Pennsylvania State 
University; Peter Barton, Dick Heiler, and the staff of the Altoona Railroaders Memorial 
Museum; Sonia Keiper of the Altoona Area Public Library; John Shelley and the staff of the 
Pennsylvania State Archives; and Barbara Ann Hoenstine of the Hoenstine Rental Library in 
Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. 

ITie team extends special thanks to those who contributed their time and energy to providing 
insightful review comments of the early drafts, including Christopher T. Baer of the Hagley 
Museum and Library, Wilmington, Delaware; Gary Bailey, Department of History, Indiana 
University of Pennsylvania; Gerald Kuncio, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum 
Commission; Edwin C. Bearss, Chief Historian, National Park Service; Marilyn Parris, 
Superintendent, Fort Necessity National Battlefield; Dr. Robert S. Grumet, Historian, Mid- 
Atlantic Region, National Park Service; Doug Comer, Eastern Applied Archeology Center, 
National Park Service; and Pat O'Brien, Thomas C. Dall, John Paige, and Michael McCluskey, 
Denver Service Center, National Park Service. 


The Southwestern Pennsylvania Heritage Preservation Comnnission requested the completion 
of a special history study of transportation in western Pennsylvania in November of 1992. The 
commission hoped that such a study would enhance an understanding of the motives for 
transportation development in the region, the evolution of transportation technology as it 
responded to western Pennsylvania's distinctive geography, and the impact of transportation 
development on the region's social, political, and economic history. A special study would 
provide a broad historical context to enhance and complement other planning efforts either 
currently in progress or those that may be undertaken in the future. The study would also 
provide additional data for the sites that interpret western Pennsylvania's history. 

Due to time constraints, much of this work has focused on secondary sources. The study is 
currently organized in four segments that address early trails and roads, canals and river 
transport, railroads, and roads and highways. The breadth and complexity of this subject may 
require a different organizational format for later versions of the study. Much of the data in 
the third section on railroads was provided by the Department of Applied History at 
Carnegie-Mellon University. The examination of the technological aspects of railroading by 
Carnegie-Mellon Universit)' leaves room for some additional work on the railroads' impact 
on western Pennsylvania society and politics. A surprising dearth of secondary sources on 
the development of highways and automotive travel in the region creates a demand for 
additional research in this area. 

No comprehensive study has been written on the subject of transportation within the western 
Pennsylvania corridor. Thus, this special history study is much more a first step than the 
definitive work on this region's important role in the development of American 


Tom Thomas 
May 1994 


Figure l: Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers Through Cumberland Gap. George Caleb 

Bingham, 1851-1852. Courtesy of Washington University Gallery of Art, St. Louis, Missouri. 


In 1851-52, the American artist George Caleb Bingham painted "Daniel Boone Escorting 
Settlers through Cumberland Gap." Bingham, a largely self-taught painter, favored images 
from American frontier life for his subjects. Although this work depicts a specific event, the 
artist almost certainly intended that the work serve as a metaphor for American western 

The painting portrays a transcendent experience, as the lead members of the party pass from 
darkness into a warm light. Boone looks suitably grim, as befits a grizzled frontiersman still 
on guard against the lurking dangers of the wilderness. The mountains loom ominously on 
both sides, but a tree by the side of the trail leans away from the travelers, as though nature 
itself is yielding to the first passage of civilization. Rebecca Boone, Daniel's wife, appears as 
a vacuous Madonna-like figure. 


This work gained in evocative quality what it sacrificed in accuracy. Bingham seems to have 
confused the journey to Goshen with the passage of the Virgin to Bethlehem, with Daniel 
Boone, of all people, playing Joseph.^ Bingham makes it look all too easy, and as we know, 
the road for European expansion into the North American interior was often very rocky, 

The painting clearly suggests an almost spiritual quality about America's western expansion 
that undoubtedly reflects the incentives of some individuals who turned to the "wilderness" 
to seek spiritual fulfillment. For the most part, however, decisions to move away from the 
relatively civilized confines of the eastern seaboard to the foot of the Appalachians and 
beyond were based upon hard-headed perceptions that the frontier held out the possibility 
for material gain, not abstract notions concerning spiritual enrichment. 

Western culture traditionally has viewed the physical environment as a plastic, malleable 
resource that humans may reshape with impunity to suit their particular economic or social 
goals. Contrary to this perception, however, humans must also react to their surroundings 
and modify their actions according to the physical conditions, constraints, and opportunities 
confronting them. Humans are as much creatures of their environment as they are masters 
of it. But the human ability to modify their surroundings reinforces Marc Bloch's rhetorical 
question, "Is not man the greatest variable in nature?" 

The history of western Pennsylvania provides excellent illustrations of the ways in which 
humans adapt their behavior to the demands of a landscape's specific character, even as they 
work to modify that landscape. A number of different cultures, both Native American and 
European, have adjusted to the region's exacting physical characteristics in order to exploit 
its rich and varied resources. Western Pennsylvania's strategic location has prompted bitter 
economic and political rivalry that on many occasions erupted into full-scale war. Again, 
these conflicts did not grow out of disputes over abstract philosophical concepts, but out of 
competition for control of the region and the profits to be gained thereby. 

1. The Virgin metaphor in fact did play a significant role in European perceptions of the occupation of the North 
American continent. See Henry Nash Smith, Vir^hi Land, 1970. 


An understanding of the region's distinctive topography is essential to appreciating its impact 
on human history. Western Pennsylvania begins in the Ridge and Valley region, and 
incorporates most of the Allegheny Plateaus. The region's most prominent feature is the 
Allegheny Front, the eastern end of the Appalachian Plateau that runs from Pennsylvania to 
Alabama. This is the largest of the series of ridges that run roughly northeast to southwest 
through the southwestern comer of the state. The Allegheny Front forms part of the 
watershed separating the Susquehanna and Ohio drainage basins. These rivers drain the state 
to the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, respectively. The awesome presence of the 
Allegheny Front has significantly shaped the course of human history in western 

A number of important rivers continue to shape the region. The Juniata and the West Branch 
of the Susquehanna flow east to the Susquehanna. The Youghiogheny River joins with the 
Monongahela to drain the southwest comer of the state. The Allegheny and its major 
tributaries, the Conemaugh, French Creek, and the Kiskiminetas, drain the northwest comer 
of the state. The Allegheny and the Monongahela come together at Pittsburgh to form the 
Ohio River, one of the continent's major river systems. The valleys of these rivers provided 
some of the earliest corridors for human expansion into what is now western Pennsylvania. 

Perhaps more than any of its other natural features, the Allegheny Front and the forks of the 
Ohio River have defined the history of western Pennsylvania. The three rivers have for 
centuries provided a gateway into the interior of the continent and the riches contained there. 
The Allegheny Front is the barrier that has blocked so many who have sought to control this 
strategic geographic point. The combination of opportunity and obstacle has been the catalyst 
for western Pennsylvania's evolution as an important transportation corridor in American 

Western Pennsylvania and the forks of the Ohio are not the nation's only important east-west 
corridor. The Hudson and Mohawk River valleys in the north, the Cumberland Gap in the 
south, and other pathways join the eastern seaboard and the trans-Appalachian interior. 
However, the combination of features in the Pennsylvania Alleghenies sets the region apart 
and has helped create both regional and national history. The mountains and rivers of 
western Pennsylvania forced the region's various occupants to adapt to its geographic 


constraints. Native- Americans of many tribes, Europeans, and Americans in turn have devised 
numerous methods of transportation in order to exploit the land and its resources. 

Although the cultures and specific objectives of these various peoples have differed, the broad 
perceptions of the land and their reaction to it share more similarities than differences. The 
development of transportation in western Pennsylvania provides important insights into the 
essential human desire to establish some control over the environment. It illuminates the vital 
role of the state, whether on the federal, commonwealth, or local level, in creating 
transportation improvements, and to a remarkable degree, in directing the course of economic 
development. The region's history also offers important evidence of the impact that 
transportation networks can have on the evolution of politics and society. From trails to 
roads, to turnpikes and canals, to railroads and highways, the pattern has remained 
remarkably unaltered. Human activity and the landscape of western Pennsylvania have 
combined to form a distinctive chapter in American history. 

I. The Origins of Transportation: Early Footpaths and Roads 

There was indeed in America a social frontier, a special place. It was not a 
place of confrontation of imagined ideal attributes. The force that created it 
was the common urge of persons from both societies to exchange goods, genes, 
and ideas. 

The debate over the role, or the very existence of the frontier in American history has recently 
been reawakened with renewed passion in the American historical community. Historian 
Frederick Jackson Turner's 1893 essay, "The Significance of the Frontier in American History," 
argued that America's adaptation to its western frontier fundamentally shaped the nation's 
character. The essay made a lasting impression on American historiography. Even critics who 
reject his thesis seemingly must come to grips with the concept of frontier, one of the most 
powerful metaphors in the American experience. The word is one of the most evocative in 

2. Francis Jennings, The Ambiguous Iroquois Empire: The Covenant Chain Confederation of Indian Tribes with English 
Colonies from its Beginnings to the Lancaster Treat}/ of 1744, (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1984), 59. 


the nation's lexicon. The perceived ability to tame and conquer frontiers in many minds is the 
quintessential American quality. 

However, as the "frontier" evolved to assume greater symbolic significance in the national 
consciousness, it lost meaning as a real place. The frontier of the mind becomes the line 
dividing light and darkness, civilization and savagery, and therefore the advance of the 
frontier is seen in moral terms. Historians increasingly recognize that such an image obscures 
rather than clarifies our understanding of the complexities of the past. 

Having said that, w^e must also recognize that the course of events in eastern North America 
in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries does exhibit certain characteristics of a frontier, i.e., a 
border between different countries or cultures. The frontier was not rigid, it wavered and 
shifted in all directions of the compass, but the word does serve to describe the dynamic 
points of contact between the numerous Native American tribes, Europeans of various 
nations, and the Americans descended from these peoples who eventually occupied the 
region. The crest of the Appalachian Mountains served on numerous occasions as the frontier 
between whites and native peoples. But as we will see, the political and economic realities 
of contact between these cultures rendered any static geographic line impossible. 

The numerous points at which these cultures came together triggered far-reaching 
consequences for the history of North America. The early history of western Pennsylvania in 
particular is the story of contact and confrontation along frontiers, not just the commonly 
perceived frontier between East and West, that shifting line between European advance and 
Native American retreat. Frontiers in western Pennsylvania also divided north and south, 
serving as lines of demarcation between Native American tribal rivalries that continued 
unabated even as all tribes were attempting to come to terms with the rising tide of white 
expansion. But the dynamic political and economic events that shaped western Pennsylvania 
were not unique to that region alone. They had their roots in the complex interrelationships 
between Europeans and Native Americans that had been developing since commercial 
exchange began between the two cultures in the 16th century. 

The potential for trade first stimulated white expansion and development all along the 
Appalachian crest. Europeans had traded with Native Americans long before the 

/. The Origins of Transportation: Early Footpaths and Roads 

establishment of permanent white settlements on the continent, and this trade only whetted 
the appetites of all concerned for expanded contact. Europeans and Native Americans were 
ready and eager to trade at almost all times, each for reasons that were clear to themselves, 
if unfathomable to their counterparts in the other culture. The commerce in furs, hides, and 
manufactured goods interjected a dynamic and unstable element in both European and Indian 
societies, and ultimately, helped undermine the ability of Native American cultures to resist 
white expansion. 

Although this cross-cultural trade had existed since before either French, Dutch, or English 
settlements had been established in North America, the level of exchange escalated 
sigiuficantly as these nations established permanent settlements on the eastern fringe of the 
continent. France placed settlers at Quebec and Montreal in the St. Lawrence River valley in 
the first half of the 17th century.-^ hi 1614, the Dutch established New Amsterdam,'* and by 
1624 the Dutch West India Company had constructed Fort Orange at the confluence of the 
Hudson and Mohawk rivers. Both the St. Lawrence valley and the Hudson-Mohawk corridor 
provided relatively direct access into the interior of the continent, the location of the richest 
fur territories, and the tribes who controlled them. 

During this period, furs were the objective of virtually all European trading activities. The 
seemingly limitless ability of North America to produce furs and skins created the impetus 
for these first European settlements. The Dutch and French settlers were few in number and 
were traders, not trappers. It was essential, therefore, to establish contacts and make 
commercial and political alliances with the tribes who controlled the fur-producing lands, and 
the transportation arteries that connected the interior with the European outposts. The 
competition for control of the fur trade led to intense conflicts between the European powers 
that frequently erupted into full-scale warfare. 

The impact of this trade on Native Americans was even more disruptive. Although the 
European market for furs was virtually insatiable, furs did not introduce a foreign element 

3. Eric Foner and John Garraty, ed.. The Reader's Companion to American Histon/, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin 
Company, 1991), 429. 

4. George Brown Tindall, America. A Narrative History, (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1984). 



into European culture. European manufactured goods, however, in their v^ide variety and 
relative technological sophistication, were radically different from the Native American 
technological resources. The fur trade also introduced Indian tribes into a market economy, 
w^hich represented a dramatic social departure from their hunting and agriculture-based 
economies. The introduction of European goods, including metal tools, cloth, alcohol, and 
firearms, altered the development of native cultures and ultimately left them dependent on 
the Europeans who were supplanting them. 

Guns almost certainly brought the most profound and revolutionary changes to the cultures 
of North America. Guns altered the hunting traditions of Indians, but more importantly, they 
had the potential of upsetting completely the political equilibrium of the continent. A tribe 
equipped with firearms could in most instances defeat any rival and become a dominant force 
in the increasingly tumultuous political arena of North America. 

Each colonizing power in turn recognized the need for native allies in the competition for 
control of the fur trade. The Dutch from a very early point established cordial relations with 
the Mohawks, one of the five nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. The French entered into 
relations with the Huron and other Algonquin tribes along the St. Lawrence and the Great 
Lakes. Each provided its allies with firearms, and war between rival tribes became at once 
bloodier, though often less conclusive. 

The polirical power that any tribe enjoyed from the military application of firearms was 
derivative; that is, they could only remain a force so long as they had access to guns, lead, 
and powder. As some chiefs of the Five Nations implored in 1711, "If Powder and Lead keeps 
so dear with you how shall we defend ourselves if attacked? With Bows and Arrows we 
cannot. Let us not want (for) Powder and Lead."^ The trade between Indians and Europeans 
undoubtedly worked to the advantage of both, but the advantages for Native Americans 
generally were of shorter duration. 

The Iroquois Confederacy and some of the more powerful Algonquin groups offer some 
exception to this depressing rule. The myth of the Iroquois in general, and the Mohawks in 

5. Jennings, The Ambiguous Iroquois Empire, 81. 


/. The Origins of Transportation: Early Footpaths and Roads 

particular, was that of a people of almost supernatural ferocity, who exterminated rivals at 
will and held sway over most of the tribes on both sides of the Appalachians. The Iroquois 
took great pains to propagate this myth themselves. In reality, the Five Nations took their fair 
share of beatings and at one point at least faced virtual extermination themselves. 

The Iroquois' greatest successes were in the diplomatic arena, not on the battlefield, and their 
political acumen allowed them to remain relevant to the growing European competition for 
North America when other Eastern tribes had been rendered politically impotent and 
displaced. The diplomatic achievements of the Iroquois held significant implications for the 
rival European powers and the future disposition of the continent, including western 

By the latter part of the 17th century, the English had defeated the Netherlands and relieved 
it of the burden of its North American colonies. The New England colonies had already been 
competing with the French in the fur trade, and the English presence on the Hudson only 
intensified this rivalry. The English also inherited the Dutch alliance with the Iroquois, a 
critical element in establishing a presence in the interior of the continent. The Iroquois for 
their own part acquired a new ally of even greater potential power than the Dutch, and they 
acted quickly to follow up on the advantage. 

By the middle 1600s, the fur territories of the eastern seaboard had been exhausted. The 
beaver populations of the Connecticut River valley had been all but wiped out and other river 
systems were seriously depleted. The lands west of the Appalachians, along the Great Lakes, 
in Canada, and the vast Ohio country of the West, (the Belle Riviere to the French) were still 
largely untapped. The Iroquois had earlier in the century fought, with disastrous results, a 
series of conflicts known as the "Beaver Wars." This conflict, with a variety of neighboring 
tribes, was intended to keep the Confederacy a viable factor in the trade network with the 
European powers. In the last quarter of the century, the Iroquois, this time with English arms 
and assistance, renewed the struggle to assert dominance over the tribes of the Great Lakes 
and the Mississippi tributaries who traded with the French. This is the conflict that exhausted 
the Five Nations and figuratively pushed the Confederacy to the wall. 


The "Grand Settlement of 1701" that reached an accommodation between the Five Nations and 
the French allowed the Iroquois to retain their independence and political influence." 
However, the Five Nations had learned their lesson about fighting wars to maintain a voice 
in the economic competition between the two remaining European powers in northeastern 
North America. Iroquois warfare and diplomacy would take a decidedly different tack after 
their brush with disaster in the Beaver Wars. 

In the ensuing half-century, the Five Nations (after 1720, the Six Nations, with the addition 
of the Tuscarora of the Carolinas) positioned themselves, with remarkable success, as the 
fulcrum in the growing Anglo-French rivalry. Although both European powers could claim 
some credit for neutralizing the Iroquois power, on the other hand neither could predict with 
perfect confidence what direction the Five Nations could take in the ongoing imperial contest. 
Iroquois neutrality had the practical effect of dampening both British and French efforts to 
control the western territories that was the future of both the fur trade and the long-term 
colonial aspirations of the two empires. 

By the middle of the 18th century, this rivalry had come to focus more and more on the Ohio 
country, specifically the headwaters of the river in what is now western Pennsylvania. Control 
of the confluence of the three rivers could give a power effective control of the entire 
drainage. For the Iroquois, control of the Ohio country could give them critical leverage to 
use against both European powers. 

After their near defeat in the Beaver Wars, the Iroquois settled on a shift in their long-term 
political agenda. Obviously, continued warfare against the tribes of the Great Lakes and their 
French allies was not a very attractive proposition. However, warfare in some form was an 
essential element of their culture. Claiming hegemony over the lands of what became western 
Pennsylvania provided the Five Nations with three critical pieces of their foreign policy. First, 
effective control of this region provided a clear corridor through which they could pass to 
make war on their southern enemies, the Cherokees and the Catawbas. It also afforded them 
political dominance of the tribes living in the Susquehanna River valley, the Delawares and 
Shawnees, who provided a buffer between the Iroquois homeland and retaliatory raids from 

6. Jennings, The Ambiguous Iroquois Empire, 209-210; Anthony Wallace, "Origins of Iroquois Neutrality: The Grand 
Settlement of 1701," Pennsylvania History 24 (1957), 223-35.6. 


/. The Origins of Transportation: Early Footpaths and Roads 

the south. The fact that the Pennsylvania tribes were frequently punished by vengeful 
Catawbas and Cherokees apparently was not a pressing concern to the Five Nations. 

Finally, control of the headwaters of the Ohio and the establishment of peaceful relations with 
the western tribes made the Iroquois the middlemen in trade between the British and the "far 
Indians," the tribes of the Great Lakes. With peace restored, the Five Nations protected 
themselves from the level of devastation they had suffered in the Beaver Wars. They also 
became the conduit through which many western tribes received British manufactured goods 
and the British communicated with these traditionally French-allied Indians. The Iroquois 
improved and expanded the network of foot trails that crisscrossed western Pennsylvania, 
running both east and west and north and south. This grid of trails facilitated commerce 
between East and West and also served as the warpaths between the Five Nations and their 
enemies in the South. These trails to a remarkable degree laid the foundation for the 
successive transportation systems that evolved in the region (see the Indian Paths to 1750 

The Iroquois claims that they also held political sway over the tribes of the West probably did 
not completely fool any of the parties involved in this political maneuvering, certainly not the 
tribes who had thrashed them frequently during the previous century's warfare. The French 
likewise were not totally intimidated by the military power of the Five Nations, after they and 
their allies had brought them to bay only a short time before. Clearly the British saw that the 
Iroquois claims of mastery over the western territories were more shadow than substance, but 
the British, unlike the other players in this game had a vested interest in supporting the 
Iroquois position. If the Iroquois claims of a western empire could be upheld, then British 
claims of patronage over the Iroquois gave the Great Britain some basis for attempting to 
establish a presence in the vast territories of the Ohio country. 

7. This account of Iroquois objectives is based on a number of sources, including Jennings, The Ambiguous Iroquois 
Empire; Wallace, "Origins of Iroquois Neutrality"; and Fred Anderson, "War and Revolution in the Making of the 
American Republic, 1750-1794," vol 1: "Death and Taxes, 1750-1775," (unpublished manuscript, 1991). These 
narrahves differ in their evaluahon of the relahve strength of the Iroquois Confederacy after the conclusion of the 
Beaver Wars and on the Five Nations' ability to serve as a check on French expansion. But they generally agree 
on the course and long-term objectives of Iroquois foreign policy. 

8. Jennings, The Ambiguous Iroquois Empire, 10-17, and elsewhere. 



There is no doubt that the British perceived the Iroquois as assuming some sort of client 
status within the Empire. A 1755 "General Map of the Middle British Colonies" (see map on 
page 15) includes the following legend concerning the region north of Lake Erie. 

The Confederates, July 19, 1701, at Albany, surrendered this their Beaver- 
Hunting Country to the English to be defended by them for the said 
Confederates, their heirs and successors forever. And the same was confirmed 
Sept. 14, 1726, when the Senecas, Caiugas, and Onondagas surrendered their 
Habitations from Cayahoga to Oswego, and Sixty Miles inland, to the same, 
for the same use. 

The same map contains an additional notation that neatly ties up the British perception of the 
pecking order among the various powers of the Ohio country. 

The Western League of Welinis (corruptly called Ilinois by the French) 
consisting of the Tawixtawis, Mineimis, Piankashas, Waniaxtas, Piques, 
Kuscuskes were seated till lately on the Ilinois River and Parts adjacent; but 
are all, except the last, removed to the Ohio and its Branches, by the express 
leave of the Confederates about 16 Years ago. 

This establishes the hierarchy pretty succinctly. The British are the patrons of the Iroquois, 
who are in turn the overlords of the western tribes, and by extension, the lands of the West 
as well. This is borne out by the stated power of the Iroquois to grant land to displaced tribes. 
Whether this accurately sums up the reality of western politics is less important for the British 
than the fact that it gives them a foothold in the Ohio country. 

This neat formula certainly did nothing to convince the French to abandon their own claims 
to the lands of the Ohio valley. For both the French and the British at this time, the Ohio was 
important primarily as a tributary of the Mississippi. Both the British and French clearly 
perceived the importance of the Ohio as a corridor into the interior of the continent. For the 
French, particularly, an avenue to the Mississippi was essential to their long-term colonial 
aspirations. The vast potential of the riches of the lands drained by the Ohio began to play 
a larger role in the plans of both imperial powers. 

9. A General Map of the Middle British Colonies in America by Lewis Evans, 1755, Archives of the Pattee Library, 
Pennsylvania State University. 

10. Ibid. 

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/. The Origins of Transportation: Early Footpaths and Roads 

The French and British motives for control of the western territories differed in detail but 
shared some similarities in their broad context. The French colonial development in North 
America by the middle of the 17th century was still modest, based in the main on the 
extractive fur trade. They had not established a colonial structure that even remotely 
resembled that of Great Britain. They did, however, control the St. Lawrence River valley, a 
vital artery for trade with the interior, and they had also established a string of settlements 
up the Mississippi valley as far as the Illinois River. The missing piece for their future on the 
continent was a linkage between the two valleys. The Ohio River and its tributaries filled this 
niche perfectly. 

The British colonial policy was quite different from the French. Their extensive, well- 
populated colonies provided captive markets for British manufactured goods, as well as raw 
materials produced in a number of extractive industries, including naval stores and, of course, 
furs. One of the major problems faced in the American colonies was that they were almost 
without exception still confined to the immediate coastal areas. The future viability of the 
British colonies required crossing the Allegheny barrier and penetrating the lands in the 
interior. The completion of a linkage between the northern and southern holdings of the 
French obviously ran counter to British goals, as it potentially would leave the British colonies 
pinned on the east slopes of the Alleghenies. The same piece of real estate was the linchpin 
of both imperial powers' strategies. This fact made a clash almost unavoidable. 

Again, however, one must bear in mind that the two empires' aspirations were grounded less 
in abstract notions of national glory than in the concrete material gains to be made. Certainly, 
for the British, establishing a monopoly in the fur trade loomed as a distinct possibility. The 
superiority of English goods potentially could drive the French out of the market. But the 
possibilities in speculation on western lands held even greater promise of wealth and excited 
the cupidity of both the English and colonists. For by this point, a number of the British 
colonies had developed sufficiently to pursue their own objectives in the West. The middle 
colonies of New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia all had grand visions for the 
future of the Ohio country, and naturally, their interests and their claims on these territories 
more often than not clashed. 



New York and Pennsylvania both had long histories of involvement in the western trade, and 
this fact had significant implications for the development of these colonies and their 
relationship with England. 

Indian policy and the fur trade helped to define the relationship between 
England and the colonies of New York and Pennsylvania because fur of all 
varieties, but especially deerskin and beaver, had become an important concern 
of English economic interests, primarily for the production of clothing and 

Even in Pennsylvania, whose tremendous agricultural productivity and developing 
manufactures gave it a relatively diverse productive base, the fur trade was a vital part of its 
economic base. Between 1720 and 1754, "... the value of fur as a percentage of 
Pennsylvania's total exports to London generally ranged from 30 to 40 percent."^^ As the 
century progressed, the colony and its proprietors became more involved in the acquisition 
of lands in central and western Pennsylvania by fair means or foul (more commonly the 
latter). This brought the colony into closer relations with the Iroquois, who coerced the land's 
Delaware and Shawnee tribes into yielding to white expansion, and also brought settlers from 
the east, who followed the Juniata River, the West Branch of the Susquehanna and other 
routes into the lands on both sides of the Allegheny Front. 

Pennsylvania was not the only colony with aspirations in the country of the Ohio headwaters. 
A number of colonies laid claims of equal validity, which is to say no validity at all, on 
western lands. Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland traders began to probe into the Ohio 
country, all posing threats to French aspirations in the region. The combination of increased 
competition in the fur trade and in western lands for speculation and development created 
a new dynamic in the West that further destabilized relations between France and Great 

By the late 1740s, all three colonies were probing deeply into the country drained by the Ohio 
and its tributaries. King George II of England chartered the Ohio Company, a speculative 

11. Stephen H. Cutliffe/'Colonial Indian Policy As a Measure of Rising Imperialism: New York and Pennsylvania, 
1700-1755," Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine 64 Guly 1981):239. 

12. Ibid., 254. 

/. The Origins of Transportation: Early Footpaths and Roads 

venture, in 1747. The company received charters first for "60,000 acres on the Potomac . . . and 
on the branches of the Youghyoughane (sic) and Monongagely (sic)" and later for "200,000 
acres to be laid out from ye branches called Kiskamansetts (sic) and Buffalo creeke" (along 

1 'X 

the Allegheny north of the future site of Pittsburgh). The company also applied for grants 
of "ten thousand or more acres ... at or near a place called Raystown (Bedford) on the 
Juniata . . . fifteen or twenty thousand acres on Lowelhaning (sic) and Kiskamonito (sic) 
Creeks (Saltsburg) . . . (and) four thousand acres at a place called the three forks of 
Youghogana (sic)."^^ Clearly, "the gentlemen of the Ohio Company sensed early the 
strategic sites of the region." In 1752, the Ohio Company employed Thomas Cresap and 
Christopher Gist, two experienced frontiersmen, traders, and land speculators, and 
Nemocolin, a Delaware Indian, to mark a path from the company post on Wills Creek to the 
Monongahela River. This 80-mile path (also known as Nemocolin's Path) established the 
shortest portage between the Potomac and the Monongahela rivers. 

The Ohio Company's rivals in Pennsylvania suspected that the principals of the company had 
put forward grand designs for their western encroachments in order to attract the support of 
the British ministry. Rev. Richard Peters, Pennsylvania's provincial secretary, reported to 
Thomas Perm "that vile fellow Cresap"^^ had suggested a scheme for Virginia to establish 
trading houses at Allegheny. He also claimed that Thomas Lee had proposed a plan to the 
British ministry to erect forts on the Ohio River "as if thereby all the country might be secured 
to his Majesty up to the Mississippi River."^^ 

The British crown in fact granted the company its 200,000 acres charter in the belief that it 
would be "a proper Step towards disappointing the views and checking the encroachments 
of the French by interrupting part of the communications from their Lodgements upon the 

13. Alfred P. James The Ohio Company. Its Inner History (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1959), 10. 

14. Ibid., 50. 

15. Ibid, 51-2. 

16. Ibid., 13. 

17. Ibid. 



Great Lakes to the River Mississippi.' It would, if carried out, have gone far in achieving 
this objective. But increased colonial development had a more immediate and unforeseen 
consequence. It motivated the French to cement their hold on the Ohio and blunt any further 
British incursions west of the AUeghenies. The colonial actions and rapid French response 
paved the road to the Seven Years' War, the "Great War for Empire" that began in western 

The strife that armed all the civilized world began here 


In 1753, the French constructed Fort Presque Isle, on Lake Erie, near the present site of Erie, 
Pennsylvania, and Fort Le Boeuf, at the headwaters of French Creek, a major tributary of the 
Allegheny River. These two forts clearly signalled French intentions to establish a presence 
along the Ohio itself and to forestall further British encroachments. The French Governor 
General, the Marquis Duquesne, planned an expedition for the following year, to construct 
a fort at the forks of the Ohio. British authorities found reports of increased French activity 
in the north very disquieting. Virginia Lt. Gov. Robert Dinwiddie, politician and avid land 
speculator, sent a very young George Washington on a mission to request officially that the 
French decamp. While on route to Fort Le Boeuf, Washington noted that the forks of the Ohio 
were "extremely well situated for a fort." 

Washington traveled from the forks north to the Great Lakes on the Venango Path, an Indian 
path that was "the lifeline to the forks of the Ohio for the masters of the Upper Allegheny, 

1 _ 

French Creek, and Lake Erie regions, successively Indian, French and British." The French 
told the Virginian, politely but firmly, that they had no intentions of vacating their holdings. 

18. Cutliffe, "Colonial Indian Policy," 261. 

19. Francis Parkman, quoted in Donald H. Kent, "The French Advance into the Ohio Country," The Western 
Peruisylvauia Historical Magazine, Fall-Winter (1954-55), 136. This statement contains some hyperbole that one might 
expect from an Anglo-Saxon-oriented historian writing during the height of European imperialism. Obviously, the 
whole civilized world was not engaged in this conflict. For Parkman, Europe probably was "the whole civilized 
world." In which case, his statement hits closer to the truth. Most of the great powers on the continent fought in 
the Seven Years' War, a conflict that sparuied three continents. 

20. Donald H. Kent, "Young Washington in Pennsylvania," Historic Pennsylvania Leaflet No. 13. (Pennsylvania 
Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, 1962), 17. 

21. Niles Anderson and Edward G. Williams, "The Venango Path As Thomas Hulchins Knew It," The Western 
Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, January 1966, 1. 


/. The Origins of Transportation: Early Footpaths and Roads 

The next year, a large French force drove a small English party from their stockade at the 
three rivers and erected Fort Duquesne in its place, cementing their hold on the region. 

Lieutenant Governor Dinwiddle had already responded to the news of a French challenge to 
the British presence at the forks. He dispatched a small military force under George 
Washington to support the party at the three rivers. On May 24, Washington established a 
camp at a clearing called the Great Meadows. A few days later, his Iroquois scouts informed 
him that a French force was encamped nearby. Washington's Iroquois allies led him and a 
portion of his command to a small glen approximately seven miles away. Here, Washington's 
troops surprised and destroyed the small French force under the Ensign Joseph Coulon de 
Villiers, sieur de Jumonville. 

Washington fell back to the Great Meadows camp, where he and his troops constructed a 
pitiful stockade, graced with the dispirited name of Fort Necessity. After an abortive advance 
against Fort Duquesne, Washington returned to his fortifications, such as they were.^'^ Here 
he was defeated in turn by Jumonville's forbearing brother, Capt. Louis Coulon de Villiers. 
De Villiers's mixed force of French regulars, Canadian militia and Indian allies overwhelmed 
Washington's demoralized and exhausted men and forced their surrender on July 3, 1754. De 
Villiers allowed Washington and his surviving troops to retreat the following day with their 
honor and their heads intact, which was more than could be said for his brother. 

This expedition's humiliating defeat led to a full-scale assault in 1755 by a large force of 
British regulars and colonial units under the command of Maj. Gen. Edward Braddock. The 
General arrived in the colonies to coordinate an ambitious three-pronged campaign against 

22. Richard White argues persuasively that Washington's guide, the Iroquois Tanacharison, had compelling 
reasons of his own for precipitating a conflict between France and England. Such a war would alleviate the 
growing French and Algonquin pressure that was eroding his own political position in the west. First, the chief 
informed him that Jumonville's force was poised to attack, when it almost certainly had been sent on a 
reconnaissance and diplomatic mission. After the battle, Tanacharison killed the wounded Jumonville with his 
tomahawk, a personal and grisly rejection of French influence on the upper Ohio. This chief, and not Washington, 
dictated the course of these events. Also in Fred Anderson, "War and Revolution in the Making of the American 
Republic, 1750-1794," 53-56. 

23. Fred Anderson in his unpublished manuscript argues persuasively that, after the fight at Jumonville Glen, 
Washington fully intended to take the offensive against Fort Duquesne. Reinforcements in the form of 200 Virginia 
troops, 100 British regulars, and 9 pieces of small artillery, apparently bolstered his confidence enough to attempt 
moving on the French presence at the Forks of the Ohio. Anderson, 59-60. 



the French strongholds at Forts Duquesne, Niagara, and Fort Frederic on Lake Champlain. 
The forks of the Ohio were clearly seen as the gatew^ay to the north as w^ell as to the West. 
If successful, this series of offensives would drive the French back to the St. Lawrence valley. 

Braddock's columns expanded and improved the Ohio Company's road sufficiently to allow 
the passage of a large, heavily equipped army almost to the very threshold of Fort Duquesne. 
Braddock's army decidedly outnumbered the combined French and Indian forces. But the 
general held the Native American tribes in complete contempt. He appreciated neither the 
vital role they would play in the coming conflict, nor the realities of war on the frontier. His 
inability to adapt to a radically different military and geographic environment contributed to 
the ultimate crushing defeat inflicted on his force. Braddock, wounded, died during the 
disorderly retreat, and left almost half of his assault force scalped and looted in the forests 
along the Monongahela (see the "Competition in the Trans-Appalachian West" map on page 
23 and figure 2 at the end of chapter I). 

Braddock's unnecessary and disastrous defeat largely was the work of France's Indian allies, 
many of whom were "far Indians", from the Great Lakes and beyond. The Ohio River's 
importance as a corridor to the interior is underscored by the fact that Osage and Kansa 
warriors from the lower Missouri River traveled hundreds of miles eastward to join their 
French allies. Delawares and Shawnees who were still seething after being driven from their 
homelands further east saw no practical alternative to alliance with the French. They in turn 
entered the conflict against the British, and quickly turned the string of white settlements 
along the Allegheny Front into a shambles. 

The Iroquois became increasingly irrelevant as open warfare robbed them of the opportunity 
to play the two empires off one another. The multiple offensives by half a dozen tribes 
against the Pennsylvania frontier punctured the illusion of the Five Nations' hegemony over 
the western tribes, and some western Iroquois joined in the mayhem. White refugees 
streamed eastward as Pennsylvanians and Native Americans engaged in a war of 
unspeakable brutality. 

By 1756, the conflict that began with Washington's and Braddock's embarrassing defeats soon 
embroiled France and Great Britain in a world war that spanned three continents and 



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/. The Origins of Transportation: Early Footpaths and Roads 

engaged most of the leading military powers of Europe. The war became the climactic 
struggle for control of the North American continent, and the British focused their military 
efforts there. The forks of the Ohio, with its French fortifications, continued to loom as a 
priority for the British army. In 1758, another British expedition under Gen. John Forbes set 
out to retake the headwaters of the Ohio. George Washington and his Virginia troops 
accompanied Forbes, as they had Braddock. 

The choice for the expedition's route led to a prolonged dispute between Washington and 
Forbes. Washington advocated that the column take the Ohio Company-Braddock Road that 
passed north through to the Monongahela. Forbes, to the delight of Philadelphia merchants, 
ultimately settled on an all-Pennsylvania route that followed the Indian Raystown Path 
through Bedford and then on to the forks of the Ohio. This route was 100 miles shorter than 
that taken by Braddock, and it would not have to ford the Monongagela. Washington's 
tenacious advocacy of the Braddock road earned him a rebuke from the General, who 
suspected that Washington's opposition sprang primarily from his speculative ambitions in 
the Ohio valley. 

As Forbes thought, Washington's push for the Braddock Road was related only tangentially 
to the logistics of an assault on Fort Duquesne. He, like the merchants of Philadelphia, clearly 
understood the value of establishing a link between the East and the trans- Appalachian West. 
In a letter to the governor of Virginia, Washington wrote, "It (the Forbes Road) secures their 
frontiers at present, and the Trade hereafter.' Col. John Armstrong of the Pennsylvania 
Regiment attached to the Forbes column, wrote, certainly with some satisfaction, to Richard 
Peters, secretary of the Permsylvania Provincial Council that, "The Virginians are much 
chagrined at the opening of the road through this government, and Colonel Washington has 
been a good deal sanguine and obstinate upon the occasion."^^ 

The debate over the army's route underscores the fact that, by the late 1750s, western 
Pennsylvania had become firmly established as an essential gateway to future development 

24. Niles Anderson, "The General Chooses a Road: The Forbes Campaign of 1758 to Capture Fort Duquesne," The 
Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, June 1959, 110. 

25. Niles Anderson, "The General Chooses a Road," Third Installment. December 1959, 384. 



in the interior. Despite the crisis on their common frontier, both Pennsylvania and Virginia 
looked beyond the war to the fortunes to be made in the western territories, via the western 
Pennsylvania corridor. 

General Forbes' successful campaign to the forks of the Ohio forced the French to abandon 
Fort Duquesne. It also significantly improved one of the major transportation corridors 
through the southern half of the colony. The loss of Fort Duquesne deprived the warring 
western tribes of the base from which they operated against the settlements of western 
Pennsylvania. Forbes' overwhelming force pushed some of the combatants into the interior 
and intimidated others into sullen acceptance of British authority. For all practical purposes, 
Forbes had pushed the frontier across the Allegheny Front to the Ohio River. With some 
semblance of peace restored, whites resumed their occupation of the lands along the 
Allegheny Front. 

The French defeat in the war and their subsequent surrender of their North American 
territories fundamentally changed the balance of power between Europeans and Native 
Americans in the trans- Appalachian West. Without the ability to play rival European powers 
off one another. Native Americans found themselves more than ever on the defensive in the 
face of increasing white settlement on the lands west of the Alleghenies. Growing Indian 
resentment of British authority and migration into the Ohio country led the western tribes in 
1763 to retaliate in a number of attacks against the British presence in the West, some of 
which were coordinated under the Ottawa chief Pontiac. 

One of the focal points of this renewed conflict was the British post at the headwaters of the 
Ohio River, Fort Pitt. The Delawares and Shawnees laid seige to the fort for over two months. 
This raised the possibility that the only substantial British presence in the Ohio country would 
be destroyed. Britain responded with an expeditionary force under General Forbes' 
second in command, Col. Henry Bouquet. Bouquet led a relatively small column of 500 
Highlander and American troops along the Forbes Road. After a bloody two-day battle at 


/. The Origins of Transportation: Early Footpaths and Roads 

Bushy Run on August 5 and 6, 1763, Bouquet's depleted and exhausted force marched to Fort 
Pitt (see figure 3).^^ 

Bouquet's relief force covered 200 miles and fought a major battle in less than three weeks. 
The existence of the Forbes Road made this relatively rapid march possible. The Bouquet 
campaign underscores the impact that the creation of a transportation network would have 
on the future development of western Pennsylvania. 

The chaos of Pontiac's war led the British government to take measures to forestall a 
repetition of the conflict by barring further settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains. This 
Proclamation of 1763 did more to turn western Pennsylvanians against the Crown than it did 
to contain expansion across the Ridge. The proclamation alienated Pennsylvania's settlers, and 
the ensuing 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix, negotiated to purchase Indian lands south and west 
of the Allegheny Front, angered the Delawares and Shawnees who claimed that their lands 
had been traded away without their consent. The political turmoil that the proclamation 
aroused combined with continued Indian/ Anglo conflict to retard the pace of settlement and 
the development of transportation in western Pennsylvania. 

The smoldering tensions along the Pennsylvania frontier erupted with the outbreak of the 
American War for Independence. The western tribes allied themselves overwhelmingly with 
the British in an effort to drive out the American interlopers. Western Pennsylvania erupted 
in violence reminiscent of the French and Indian War. Americans occupied the forks of the 
Ohio, however, and control of this strategically vital point prevented the widespread rout that 
had followed Braddock's defeat. The American presence on the Ohio greatly facilitated the 
United States' ability to conduct offensives against the tribes allied with the British. Never 
again would Native Americans be able to drive the white invaders back across the 
Alleghenies. The strategic value of the three forks of the Ohio proved decisive in the battle 
over what had become by the end of the war part of the commonwealth of Peiinsylvania. 

26. The conventional wisdom on the Battle of Bushy Run has been that Bouquet's forced march prevented the 
destruction of the fort and saved the Imperial presence on the frontier. On the contrary, it is almost certain that 
the tribes attacking the fort could have taken it at any time. It is just as certain that, had they wanted, the 
Delawares and Shawnees could have annihilated Bouquet's badly mauled forces on their way to the forks. What 
is more probable is that Pontiac's "rebellion" was really a punitive strike intended to force the British to live up 
to the obligations they had implicitly assumed by succeeding the French in the Ohio valley. The British did, in 
fact, take a more conciliatory stance toward the Ohio Valley tribes in the wake of the fighting of 1763. 



The end of the war allow^ed Pennsylvania a far greater range of action in occupying and 
developing the lands in the trans-Appalachian West. The state's transportation network, 
particularly in the West, was deteriorated or nonexistent. Increased migration towards the 
Ohio prompted action to create linkages between the East and the developing West. As early 
as 1785, the General Assembly authorized funding for the construction of a state highway 
"between . . . the county of Cumberland and Pittsburgh.' The already established route 
of the Forbes Road laid the foundation for one of the state's major east-west transportation 
corridors. The development of this road facilitated intrastate commerce and also provided an 
efficient route for the 15,000 federal troops that marched west to Pittsburgh in 1794 to quell 
the Whiskey Rebellion.^^ 

Between the end of the war and the beginning of the 19th century, the United States secured 
its hold on the territories west of the Appalachians and on both sides of the Ohio River. The 
tribes of the Ohio Valley resisted this renewed white encroachment and dealt two major 
setbacks to American military expeditions led by Generals Josiah Harmar and Arthur St. Clair, 
in what was then called the Northwest Territory (and later became the states of Ohio, Indiana, 
Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan). A third U.S. army under Gen. Anthony Wayne decisively 
defeated the Ohio Indians at the battle of Fallen Timbers in August 1794 and forced them to 
cede a huge portion of land between Lake Erie and the Ohio River. This victory demoralized 
the Six Nations and led them to relinquish their claims on the Erie Triangle, the northwest 
corner of Pennsylvania that reaches Lake Erie. The acquisition of the Erie Triangle linked 
the western part of the state with Lake Erie. This important traditional corridor was now 
firmly in American hands and enhanced western Pennsylvania's established identity as a 

27. George R. Beyer, "Pennsylvania's Roads Before The Automobile," Historic Pennsylvania Leaflet No. 33. 
(Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1972), 2. 

28. The Whiskey Rebellion has its roots in the 1791 passage of an excise tax on distilled liquors. As western 
Pennsylvanians relied on distilling to render their grain products into a marketable and transportable commodity, 
and because they relied on whiskey as a substitute for cash, the tax seemed to weigh disproportionally on those 
least able to pay. Many rural western Pennsylvanians resisted violently the attempts of federal officials to collect 
the tax. The threatened uprising alarmed President Washington, who had long harbored a prejudice against 
backcountry Appalachian settlers as an undisciplined, dangerous rabble disrespectful of private property. He was 
particularly concerned about the disposition of his speculative land interests in the West. These issues combined 
with larger issues over the primacy of federal authority led Washington and his cabinet to raise a large army and 
lead it against the whiskey rebels. In the face of an overwhelming show of federal force, the rebellion collapsed. 

29. Carl B. Lechner, "Elimination of Indian Claims to the Erie Triangle," The Journal of Erie Studies. (Mercyhurst 
College and the Erie County Historical Society, Erie, PA) fall 1984, 27-29. 


/. The Origins of Transportation: Early Footpaths and Roads 

crossroads of American expansion. Americans swarmed into western Pennsylvania. By 1800, 
southwestern Pennsylvania had 100,000 inhabitants. 

In the 1780s, the state government undertook the burden of improving Pennsylvania's 
overland transportation, but the state was not capable of achieving this on its own. The cost 
of building a macadam road surface could range anywhere from $4,000 to $14,000 a mile. The 
stone bridges on the roads could cost as much as $15,000. 

The efforts of an early special interest lobby, the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the 
Improvement of Roads, persuaded the state government to shift to a shared system of 
state assistance combined with a corporate charter of private turnpike companies. After 1793, 
the state regularly made appropriations for the improvements of roads and turnpikes. An act 
of March 21, 1806, enabled the commonwealth authorized use of state funds to buy stock 
subscriptions in turnpike companies, which greatly enhanced the ability of these companies 
to raise funds. 

The state also continued to contribute money directly to improvements, investing in a wide 
range of projects. In 1811, $825,000 were appropriated for roads. The largest single amount 
was earmarked for western improvements — $350,000 for a turnpike from Harrisburg to 
Pittsburgh. Legislative appropriations in 1816-1817 contained almost $200,000 for a number 
of roads in the western part of the state, as well as roads that would link the West with 
Philadelphia and other cities in the East. These included roads between Greensburg and 
Pittsburgh, Stoystown and Greensburg, Bedford and Stoystown, Chambersburg and Bedford, 
Pittsburgh and Bedford, Huntingdon and Cambria, and Beaver to the state line. 

The creation of more sophisticated roadways facilitated to some degree the increase of 
commerce between the eastern and western parts of the state. "Already the annual wagon- 
freight between the Ohio and this city (Philadelphia), is computed at a million dollars. . . . 
Ten wagons leave Philadelphia for Pittsburgh every day . . . taking an average freight of 200 

30. Louis Hartz, Economic Policy and Democratic Thought: Pennsylvania, 1776-1860 (Cambridge: Harvard University 
Press, 1948), 51. 

31. Charles Alexander Williams, "The History and Operations of the Pennsylvania Turnpike System" (Ph.D. diss.. 
University of Pittsburgh, 1954), 36. 



dollars, which gives 730,000 dollars outward, and probably one-third inv^ard."'^^ France's 
decision to open its West Indian ports to American traders in part spurred the early need for 
improvements in transportation, as it increased the demand for western Pennsylvania 
foodstuffs. With the closure of West Indian trade, American commerce became more 
focused on domestic markets, but this if anything, accelerated the developmicnt of 
transportation (see Communication and Transportation Routes, 1810-1836 map). 

Although the region was overwhelmingly rural, its towns also grew, both as an obvious result 
of westward migration, and also because western Pennsylvania served as one of the primary 
gateways to the new states and territories in the Ohio Valley. Pittsburgh's position at the 
forks of the Ohio determined its rapid rise as an important crossroads of transportation 
routes. The city's early development of manufacturing enterprises was due in large part to 
the fact that it so quickly evolved as one of the most important cities in the trans-Appalachian 
West. Pittsburgh's population grew exponentially between 1790 and 1810, from 376 to 4786. 
By 1820, its population had grown to 7,248.-^ 

Other towns in the region experienced growth in this same period. By 1796, there were nine 
towns in Fayette County and eight in Washington County. "All the towns had important road 
connections to the major centers. Five towns were on the early road network that became the 
famous National Road. . . ." Connellsville grew up at Stewart's Crossing, which had been 
an important ford on the Youghiogheny since Braddock's campaign against Fort Duquesne. 
It became a crossing for a state road. Monongahela, originally known as Parkinson's Ferry, 
was located where the Glade Road from Bedford to Washington crossed the Monongahela 
River. Two other towns. New Geneve in Fayette County, and Greensboro in Greene County, 
developed on what Albert Gallatin described as "the nearest portage from the western waters 

32. Samuel Breck, Sketch of the Internal Improi'ements Already Made in Pennsylvania; With Observations Upon Her 
Physical and Fiscal Means for Their Extension; Particularly as They Have Reference to the Future Growth and Prosperity 
of Philadelphia. Philadelphia (M. Thomas, 52 Chestnut Street, 1818), 12. 

33. Williams, "Pennsylvania Turnpike," 31. 

34. Buck Solon, The Planting of Civilization in Western Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 
1939), 217. 

35. R. Eugene Harper, The Transformation of Western Pennsylvania, 1770-1800 (Pittsburgh: The University of 
Pittsburgh Press, 1991), 83. 



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/. The Origins of Transportation: Early Footpaths and Roads 

to the Potowmack (sic) and the Federal City.' Other towns sprang up on important local 
roads. Canonsburg was on the road from Pittsburgh to Washington and East Liberty on the 
road from Uniontown to Greensburg. 

Brownsville, Washington, Uniontown, Greensburg, and Bedford were growing as important 
regional communities. All of these towns owed their development primarily to their locations 
along the region's transportation corridors. Each played a part in the region's transportation 
network. Bedford's early service as a fort and staging area for military operations in the West 
carried over into its new role as a stop on the Pennsylvania Road between Philadelphia and 
Pittsburgh. Greensburg was also on the Pennsylvania Road, and Connellsville served as the 
head of keelboat navigation on the Youghiogheny River. 

Uniontown, Brownsville, and Washington all grew up along the National Road that began 
in Cumberland, Maryland, on the Potomac River and ultimately ran west to Vandalia, Illinois. 
Ihe development of this federally funded and constructed road signalled widespread 
awareness of the dynamic growth and development in the trans- Appalachian West and of the 
need to create viable transportation and communication lines between this region and the 
established eastern seaboard. 

The federal government had a significant impact on the development of western 
Pennsylvania. The armies that met both defeat and victory in the Northwest Territory brought 
much needed capital into the region and also stimulated the production of local industry. 
Even the army that suppressed the Whiskey Rebellion, although undoubtedly cursed by many 
westerners, bought needed supplies in the West and helped relieve the cash shortage that in 
part had prompted the tax revolt in the first place. The construction of the National Road, 
more than any other federal effort, provided a significant subsidy that helped further the pace 
of development in the western part of the state. 

The Western Settlers . . . stand as it were on a pivet — the touch of a feather 
would almost incline them (either to England or to Spain). . . . the way to 

36. Ibid., 85. 



avoid both ... is to open a wide door, and make a smooth way for the 
Produce of that Country to pass to our Markets. 

The development of the National Road plays an especially significant role in the evolution 
of western Pennsylvania's transportation story. It not only provided the first all-weather, 
relatively technically sophisticated overland artery between East and West. Its funding and 
construction represented an unusually intrusive federal role in the national economy. The 
political inclinations of many Americans leaned toward a federal government with clearl)- 
defined and limited powers that did not extend to the improvement of the national 

Others, however, like George Washington, feared the fragmentation of the United States along 
the crest of the Appalachians. To keep the states united in fact, as well as in name, 
Washington, and later national leaders like Albert Gallatin, Thomas Jefferson, and Henry Clay 
argued for the construction of some form of communication between the East and West. 
Western Pennsylvania was an obvious link in the creation of such a route. The rudimentary 
roads laid by Gist, Nemocolin, and Braddock laid part of the foimdation for this singular 
transportation development. 

But the new roadway was a far more sophisticated system than any of the previous routes. 
The National Road was designed to carry more traffic, heavier loads, and fimction in all kinds 
of weather. Construction of the road's macadam surface cost as much as $13,000 per mile in 
some of Pennsylvania's mountainous regions. The roadway made a far more lasting 
impression on the landscape, as hundreds of workers cleared trees, graded rights-of-way, and 
hand-fitted the paving stones. 

The road changed the landscape by stimulating the growth of existing towns, the creation of 
new towns, and the construction of roadside inns, taverns, and other service facilities for the 
thousands who travelled the road between the established East and the rapidly developing 

37. George Washington, 1784, quoted in Merritt lerley. Traveling the National Road. Across the Centuries on America's 
First Highway (Woodstock: The Overlook Press, 1990), 20. 

38. The following section on the Nahonal Road is taken in large part from Tiic National Road: A Special Resource 
Study. (National Park Service, 1994). 


/. The Origins of Transportation: Early Footpaths and Roads 

States of the trans- Appalachian West. The road corridor quickly fulfilled its promise as a vital 
artery linking the East with the Northwest. Its many communities became bustling centers 
where presidents, generals, and politicians crossed paths with immigrants, wagon masters, 
and cattle drovers. These towns and cities evolved as important elements in a transportation 
phenomenon of national significance. 

Despite the road's imposing scope and complex infrastructure, it still was only one of the 
multitude of internal improvement projects created in the antebellum United States. 
Throughout this period, state and local governments, and in a few exceptional cases, the 
federal government, engaged in innumerable projects to improve the nation's transportation 
networks. The spectacular investments made in canals, roads, and railroads illustrate the 
dynamic growth of America in the decades before the Civil War. 

Henry Clay, one of the foremost political leaders in antebellum America, pushed aggressively 
for the creation and maintenance of the National Road. Clay saw this internal improvement 
as an essential component of his "American System" of national economic development. But 
Congress, representative of the time's more loosely united American states, could not reach 
consensus on the legitimacy of federal funding of projects like the National Road. When 
Congress did agree on a plan to finance the road and other improvements. President James 
Monroe vetoed the bill as an unconstitutional exercise of federal power. 

Although Pittsburgh might appear as the logical destination for such a route, the National 
Road's first terminus was Wheeling, Virginia, in large part because Henry Clay had fewer 
friends in Pittsburgh. The road originally was intended to pass through only a small comer 
of Pennsylvania, but the state's politicians pushed to have the route moved farther north. 
Both Clay's and Pennsylvania's political interference in the development of the National Road 
are symptomatic of the tangled relationship between politics and the development of public 
works. Public works projects often have spawned corruption and graft within the political 
systems that oversee them, and the history of western Pennsylvania's transportation 
development for the next half -century graphically illustrates this point. Throughout the period 
of internal improvements in the first half of the 19th century, the state's politicians adroitly 
manipulated the state's efforts to improve its transportation network. 



Between 1800 and 1820, American emigration to the West accelerated dramatically. In 1800, 
about 400,000 white Americans lived in the area west of the Appalachians. Within 20 years, 
that number had jumped to 2 million.^^ Kentucky, on the Ohio River had been a state for 
almost 30 years. Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois in the Old Northwest Territory had become states, 
and Missouri would achieve statehood in 1821. The explosive growth in the West created new 
opportunities for trade over the mountains and placed increasing demand on the states to 
improve transportation both within their borders and with neighboring states, as well. 

Pennsylvania continued its efforts to improve communication and transportation between the 
eastern and western portions of the state. In addition to efforts to construct the Pennsylvania 
Road between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the state also appropriated funds for a road that 
would connect the Susquehanna and Ohio River valleys. This road, running between 
Huntingdon and Pittsburgh, was constructed in sections between 1810 and 1821 by three 
different companies. The Huntingdon-Cambria-Indiana Turnpike, as it became known, 
followed parts of the Frankstown Indian Path and created the right of way for the William 
Penn Highway (U.S. 22). Another series of companies constructed a turnpike between 1821 
and 1831 to connect Bedford with the National Road at Washington, and three companies 
built a road between Ebensburg and Butler, following the route of the Kittaning Indian Path 

By 1832, Pennsylvania led all states with 2,400 miles of turnpikes.'*^ Much of this mileage 
had been constructed by turnpike charter companies supported by individual communities, 
often with indirect assistance from the state. Despite the absence of a comprehensive plan, 
Pennsylvania's road system was relatively well integrated, and linked to roads in other states. 
The state's efforts to improve its transportation system facilitated immigration, encouraged 
the growth of cities and towns on the roads, as well as great numbers of taverns and inns, 
and increased intrastate and interstate trade. Before the construction of Erie Canal, "the 
Pennsylvania Road carried nine-tenth of all the transmontane traffic of the nation. . . .'"^^ 

39. James West Davidson, et al., Nation of Nations. A Narrative History of the American Republic, vol 1, To 1877 (New 
York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 1990), 311. 

40. Williams, "Pennsylvania Turnpike System," 36. 

41. Ibid., 203. 


I. The Origins of Transportation: Early Footpaths and Roads 

Pennsylvania's focus on roads led to the construction of relatively sophisticated turnpikes 
and bridges that undoubtedly improved transportation and communication within the state. 
But road transport remained prohibitively expensive for the shipment of a number of bulky 
commodities. The speed of a horse and wagon was extremely limited, as was its carrying 
capacity. The load limit on the turnpikes was five tons. Most western produce still went 
downriver to New Orleans for shipment to the East. This was the first arc in a circular trade 
that continued through the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic and the seaports of the east. Eastern 
goods then were shipped overland to the trans- Appalachian settlements. The cost of shipping 
goods over the 300 miles between Philadelphia to Pittsburgh exceeded the cost of river and 
sea transport from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia. 

Pennsylvania continued to support the construction of roads throughout the first third of the 
19th century, despite the fact that the greatest part of the state's energies after 1825 were 
devoted to canal construction and maintenance. The state's leadership recognized that the 
canals would not serve the more remote sections of the state, but that these areas still 
required some transportation assistance. The money given to road development also resulted 
from the need to maintain political support in areas that were indifferent or hostile to the 
state canals, to keep Pennsylvania trade from leaving the state, or simply to pay political 
debts. The Pittsburgh Gazette reported in 1836 that 

the anti-Mason Democrats also resolved that 'our representatives in the last 
Legislature, by procuring the following appropriations, have proved 
themselves to be the friends of Allegheny county interests, faithful to their 
constituents and worthy of the future confidence of the people vis: 

Pittsburgh and Washington Turnpike Road $15,000 
Pittsburgh and Greensburgh Turnpike Road 12,000 
Pittsburgh and Mount Pleasant Turnpike Road 5,000 

However, 1836 marked the end of the state's investment in turnpike and roads construction, 
although it still held substantial amounts of turnpike stock. By this point, it was obvious that 
canals were superior to horse-and-wagon transport, just as rail would soon prove superior 
to both. Three-quarters of a century would pass before the state again invested in road 

42. George Rogers Taylor, The Transportation Revolution, 1815-1860, vol. 4 of The Economic History of the United 
States. (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962), 159. 



The road development that followed focused on the creation of plank roads, whose relative 
cheapness and ease of construction made them popular as feeders to the state's canals and 
railroads. Two hundred thirty-two plank road companies were incorporated between 1849 
and 1854, but these roads deteriorated quickly, often within five years or less. Without 
continued state aid, they soon disappeared in the face of increased competition from large- 
scale railroads. 

Pennsylvania attempted to divest itself of turnpike stock, with spectacularly poor results. In 
an auction held in 1878, the state received $6,041.68 on stock for which it had paid $550,360. 
In a second auction, in 1880, the state $2,224.12 for stock originally bought at $727,575. 
Pennsylvania took a breathtaking beating on its $173,860 investment in the Huntingdon 
Cambria and Indiana Turnpike Company, which returned $11.26. Its $191,150 worth of stock 
in the Stoystown and Greenburg yielded $229.38. The most insulting, although not the worst 
return, was the $0.36 the state received for $3,650 worth of stock in the New Alexandria and 
Conemaugh stock. Clearly, road development in western Pennsylvania was not a part of the 
discerning investors' portfolio. 

By the middle of the second decade of the 19th century, Pennsylvania's emphasis on 
improvements shifted dramatically from roads to canals and rail, largely in response to the 
development of New York's Erie Canal. The Erie's success threatened to attract western 
Pennsylvania's commerce and usurp the state's role as the primary link to the West. The 
construction of the Erie Canal triggered a frenetic period of internal improvements 
construction in Pennsylvania that ranged from the magnificent to the bizarre. The following 
quarter century witnessed intense competition, corrupt politicking, wild public spending, and 
industrial capitalism that ultimately reinforced western Pennsylvania's traditional role as one 
of the nation's essential transportation corridors. 


Figure 2: Braddock'S Defeat. Painting by Edward Deming, 1903. Deming's painting sliovvs 
Ottawa, Huron, Chippewa, and Potawatomi warriors, the "far Indians" of the West, attacking the 
British. Maj. George Washington reaches to catch Braddock's bridle. Courtesy of the State Historical 
Society of Wisconsin. 

Figure 3: An Early Engraving from the Perspective of Mt. Washington. The scope ot the 
British fortifications at the forks of the Ohio graphically illustrates the strategic importance of the 
site. Courtesy of the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania. 


II. Internal Improvements: River Navigation and Canal Building 

The State Works of Pennsylvania — 

Pennsylvania was driven into her works of internal improvement, by what New 
York and Maryland had done. The great thoroughfares to the west, which these 
states had opened, or were opening, threatened to open the trade of the Valley 
entirely from Philadelphia, while Pittsburgh was also in danger of losing the 
profits of a western depot. Hence for the interests of these two cities, and 
through them of the state, there must be, whether dame Nature smiled or 
frowned, a grand highway for travel and commerce through Pennsylvania. 
There must be, and I doubt whether history presents any thing like a parallel to 
the work which the state has achieved in the accomplishment of her purpose. 
Hannibal's passage over the Alps, and Napoleon's over the Simplon, I cannot 
but esteem trifles, in comparison with this victory obtained by the peaceful state 
of Pennsylvania over the Alleghenies.'*^ 

Pennsylvania's extensive road building programs in the period 1780-1840 comprised only one 
part of the state's growing pursuit of internal improvements in the decades following the 

43. The Hollidaysburg Canal and Portage Register, September 7, 1836, 2. 



nation's independence. The state also becanie involved in improvennents in river 
navigation and, by the early decades of the 19th century, with canal development, as well. 
The state governnnent's participation in transportation development grew steadily through 
the first half of the 19th century. By the middle of the 1830s, the majority of the state's budget 
was devoted, directly or indirectly, to public or private works projects related to 
transportation. These efforts profoundly affected the evolution of Pennsylvania's politics, 
economy, and society. 

Western Pennsylvania has a number of important river systems that flow north, south, east, 
and west through the region. The Allegheny, Monongahela, Youghiogheny, and Conemaugh 
rivers created arteries for travellers moving north and south. The Susquehanna, Juniata, 
Kiskaminetas, and Ohio rivers facilitated travel for east- and west-bound travelers. The 
region's river systems provided corridors for travel between the coastal areas, the Hudson 
River drainage, the Great Lakes, and the Ohio River valley. The west branch of the 
Susquehanna penetrated the Allegheny Ridge, which meant that Native Americans and 
European traders, with two portages, could travel by water from the Mohawk River to the 
Mississippi River. The Susquehanna's west branch and the two branches of the Juniata River 
were the natural highways for the European settlers who pushed into western Pennsylvania 
in the middle of the 18th century. 

However, all of these rivers could prove mercurial to travelers who attempted to navigate 
them with any but the simplest, shallow-draft craft. The spring thaws could raise rivers 
sufficiently to make them navigable, but severe flooding often made travel too dangerous. By 
late summer, streamflow usually dropped too low to allow passage of boats of any significant 
size. Europeans who wished to develop more sophisticated transportation systems quickly 
focused on these streams' limitations. As early as 1769, "a plea was made to the (Pennsylvania 

44. Historians once described the time period 1800-1850 as the "Age of Internal Improvements." This term 
originated in Whig historiography and was carried through the consensus historiography of the 1950s and 1960s. 
Historians subsequently have rejected this usage as a simplistic and positive description of a complex process that 
clearly had negative implications for significant numbers of Americans. However, we must not disregard the fact 
that the term was commonly used at the time to describe the development of the American transportation 
infrastructure. For many people, canals, turnpikes, and development of river navigation were definitely an 
improvement over what had existed before. 


//. Internal Improvements: River Navigation and Canal Building 

colonial) assembly that the Juniata be made navigable.'"*^ Between 1791 and 1807, the 
channels of the Juniata and its Raystown and Frankstown branches had been improved. 
Channel clearing commenced on the Allegheny almost immediately upon the state's 
acquisition of the Erie Triangle in 1794. By 1807, improvements had also been made on the 
Monongahela, the Youghiogheny, and the Kiskaminetas. 

Pennsylvanians began shipping on these streams before 1800. "In the spring of 1795, a man 
named Kryder . . . brought the first boat down the Juniata from Huntingdon to Harrisburg. 
. . . Philadelphians were embittered that he went on to Baltimore. . ."^^ This small incident 
illustrates a geographic fact of life for southern Pennsylvania's commercial activities. The 
Susquehanna's flow to Chesapeake Bay naturally diverted much of that region's trade to 
Baltimore, not Philadelphia. Southern and western Pennsylvania's economic relationship with 
Baltimore continued to evolve and grew stronger throughout the first half of the 19th century. 

Western Pennsylvanians also began shipping on the rivers that flowed on the western side 
of the Appalachian watershed, to the Mississippi River and New Orleans. As early as the 
1790s, the region's agricultural produce, whiskey, iron, and the products of Pittsburgh's 
fledgling manufacturing enterprises were floated downriver to the Spanish port of New 
Orleans. The West's growing commercial ties with a foreign power prompted American 
political leaders to push for the construction of transportation systems that linked the West 
with the Atlantic rather than the Mississippi. 

Before 1811, flatboats and the somewhat more sophisticated keelboats provided the only 
substantial transport for westbound freight and immigrants. The flatboats were little more 
than covered rafts that could only travel with the river's current. Upon arrival at their 
destination, the flatboats were broken up for lumber and their crews returned home on foot. 
Keelboats could be rowed or poled upstream, but this was a labor-intensive enterprise that 

45. Robert McCollough and Walter Leuba, The Pennsylvania Main Line Canal, (York, PA: The American Canal and 
Transportation Center, 1973), 4. 

46. The Hagley Museum and Library Accession 1777, Map Project Data Files. These efforts to improve navigation 
on Western rivers were undertaken both by the state and by private corporations. 

47. McCollough and Leuba, The Pennsylvania Main Line Canal, 5. 



did not offer a viable solution to the problem of creating tw^o-way transport on the region's 

The need for more efficient transportation became more pressing after 1800 because of the 
remarkable increase in Pittsburgh's productive capacity. Zadok Cramer's 1814 edition of The 
Navigator, a guide for travelers and settlers on the Ohio and Mississippi River drainages, 
described the wide array of industrial endeavors in the city. Pittsburgh was home to 

One grist mill (steam) . . . Three carding and spinning mills . . . Two distilleries 
. . . Three breweries . . . Four brick yards . . . One rope walk . . . Two air 
furnaces . . . Three red lead facturies (sic) . . . Six naileries . . . Three glass works 
. . . Two potteries . . . Two gun smitheries . . . Sixteen looms . . . Six tanneries 
. . . Four cooperies . . . Two wagon makers . . . Three boat and ship builders. . 
. . One wire weaving, at which sieves, screens, riddles, etc. are made to 
considerable extent — three printing establishments and one book bindery.'*^ 

Cramer also reported that the city's iron industry "... is becoming a manufacture of the 
greatest importance.' Cramer, with some amount of booster hyperbole, wrote that "It 
(Pittsburgh) is a place of note and celebrity not only in America, but even in Europe." Even 
at this early age, however, the city displayed elements of its later notorious character. "The 
traveller, however, on entering it for the first time, meets with some disappointment. The 
town (is) enveloped in thick clouds of smoke, which even affect respiration; the appearance 
of the houses is dark and gloomy, from the general use of coal, particularly in the numerous 
manufacturies (sic), which send into the air immense columns of smoke. . . ." 

The shipwrights in Pittsburgh provided an unusual and innovative alternative to the 
limitations of shipping via flatboats and keelboats. From 1795 to 1810, and again from 1840 
to 1865, the city's shipbuilders constructed a significant number of oceangoing sail and 
steamships. The city possessed a number of the essential elements of the shipbuilding 

48. Zadok Cramer, The Navigator (Pittsburgh, PA: Robert Ferguson & Co. Printers, 1814), 55-56. 

49. Ibid., 58. 

50. Ibid., 49. 

//. Internal Improvements: River Navigation and Canal Building 

industry. In addition to a skilled labor force, "Black walnut was comn\on along the banks of 
the Monongahela. . . . Along the Allegheny there were great stands of white pine and 
hemlock (for masts) . . . rope walks capable of supplying cordage for ships' rigging . . . iron 
was available from Pittsburgh forges. . . . Locally grown flax provided the raw material for 
linen sailcloth."^^ Pittsburgh ships carried regional produce and manufactured goods down 
river to the port of New Orleans, and on to New York and Philadelphia. Some of these 
vessels served in trade in the West Indies, the Atlantic, and the Mediterranean. 

The construction of oceangoing ships did not solve Pittsburgh's problems regarding the 
receipt of trade from the East, since none of the vessels constructed in the period 1795-1810 
ever returned to the headwaters of the Ohio. Deep-draught ships were a high risk in the 
West's shallow rivers, and this, combined with the lack of available credit for Pittsburgh 
shipyards and the general decline in American mercantile shipping in the wake of the 
Embargo Act of 1807 put an end to the first phase of Pittsburgh shipbuilding. Western 
Pennsylvania still confronted the need for an efficient means of trade and travel between the 
coast and the lands west of the AUeghenies, not only to import needed goods, but to provide 
access to market for its own growing manufacturing base. 

As the first quarter of the nineteenth century drew to a close, trade rivalry 
assumed a new intensity among the three important Atlantic seaports — 
Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore. The rich prize on which all of them cast 
covetous eyes was the rapidly growing traffic to and from the Mississippi valley 
... a dominant position in the trade with the new West thus became the goal 
of each of the port cities.^'^ 

The above statement, in one variation or another, has prevailed as the conventional wisdom 
concerning Pennsylvania's massive public works improvements of the 1820s and 1830s. 

51. William F. Trimble, "From Sail to Steam: Shipbuilding in the Pittsburgh Area, 1790-1865," The Western 
Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, April 1975, 148. 

52. President Thomas Jefferson imposed the embargo on foreign trade in retaliation for British and French attacks 
on American shipping during the Napoleonic Wars. Jefferson hoped that the embargo's economic pressure would 
force more moderate behavior from the warring powers. Instead, it depressed the American economy and 
encouraged smuggling by American merchants. The failed embargo was replaced by Congress in 1809 with the 
equally ineffective Non-Intercourse Act of 1809. 

53. Allegheny Portage Railroad: Its Place in the Main Line of Public Works of Pennsylvania. Forerunner of the Pennsylvania 
Railroad 2:9-il (February 1930). 



Undoubtedly, the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 motivated Pennsylvanians, particularly 
in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, to agitate for the creation of a competing system for their 
state. The statement above describes a broader, (and arguably more correct) context for 
Pennsylvania's system of public works as part of an interstate network, not simply an east- 
west intrastate linkage. However, this perspective assumes a more or less equal rivalry among 
the cities, and particularly between Philadelphia and New York, that was only unbalanced 
by the Erie Canal. More recent scholarship, however, indicates that economic conditions on 
the Atlantic seaboard were somewhat more complicated. 

Diane Lindstrom's work on the Economic Development of Philadelphia in the first decades 
of the 19th century indicates that the commercial rivalry between the two cities had 
already been resolved long before the construction of the Erie Canal. Her quantitative study 
paints a portrait of a complex, evolving urban economy that was growing beyond the city's 
roots as a commercial center. After 1810, Philadelphia's economic growth resulted from the 
expansion of its manufacturing base that had its roots in a long tradition of handicrafts. While 
Philadelphia grew between 1810 and 1840, it still fell behind New York. During this same 
period, Philadelphia's foreign commerce suffered an absolute decline. 

A number of factors contributed to this transformation. The explosive growth in New York's 
hinterland after 1780^^ led to increased agricultural production and created new incentives 
for trade between New York and the state's interior. New York and Baltimore's harbors were 
superior to Philadelphia's port facilities, as Delaware Bay was prone to closure by ice in the 
winter. Philadelphia's focus on the West Indian trade hurt its competitiveness with its rivals 
when that trade closed in the early 1800s. Later, the completion of the Delaware and Raritan 
Canal (1834) reduced shipping costs between Philadelphia and New York, and Philadelphians 
increasingly used New York as a port. Lindstrom concludes that New York's commercial 
hegemony was well established before the War of 1812. 

54. Diane Lindstrom, Economic Developme?it in the Philadelphia Region, 1810-1850, (New York: Columbia University 
Press, 1978). 

55. Between 1730 and 1780, New York grew 333%, while Pennsylvania grew 533%. In the period 1780-1810, New 
York's growth increased to 356%, while Pennsylvania's fell to 148%. 


//. Internal Improvements: River Navigation and Canal Building 

Lindstrom argues that the trans- Allegheny trade was not significant until the 1830s. Even the 
completion of the Pennsylvania Main Line of Public Works in 1834 did not bring a windfall 
trade to Philadelphia. "Not until 1840 — when special rates were established — would most 
Western exports to Philadelphia follow the Main Line instead of the circuitous route via New 
Orleans. "^^ 

We see from this perspective a much more complex chain of circumstances surrounding the 
development of public works and transportation improvements. However, the fact remains 
that powerful elements in the Philadelphia business community, bankers as well as 
merchants, agitated and lobbied for the creation of a transportation system to rival the Erie. 
Hindsight almost certainly makes Philadelphia's commercial decline more self-evident than 
it was in the first decades of the 19th century. Also, support for a more sophisticated 
transportation infrastructure was not limited to the eastern part of Pennsylvania. The growing 
western portions of the state, particularly around Pittsburgh, also were adding their voices 
to the internal improvements movement. Obviously, significant incentives still existed for the 
state to invest in an East-West trade route. But the more traditional, simplistic answer that 
Pennsylvania's public works were a manifestation of American westward expansion does not 
fully take into account the state's diverse economic, social, and political environments. 

The very fact that Philadelphia's manufacturing base was growing offers some explanation 
for the increasing demand for either a canal or rail link between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. 
The city's manufacturers quite naturally would be interested in additional markets for their 
products. And as we have seen, Pittsburgh even in its early decades had a vibrant 
manufacturing economy and would require a transportation system for shipping and 
receiving finished products and raw materials. In addition to these concerns, the state's 
leaders clearly recognized the Erie's potential ability to syphon western Pennsylvania trade 
to New York. This, coupled with the fact that significant parts of Pennsylvania, including the 
southwestern counties^^ and the Susquehanna valley, were commercially linked to Baltimore 

56. Lindstrom, Economic Development in the Philadelphia Region, 113. 

57. Peter A. Wallner, Politics and Public Works: A Study of the Pennsylvania Canal Systems, 1825-1857. (PhD. diss., 
Pennsylvania State University, 1973), 37. Also, Robert E. Carlson, "The Pennsylvania Improvement Society and its 
Promotion of Canals and Railroads, 1824-1826." Pennsylvania History 31:296 (1964). 



far more than to Philadelphia, posed a perceived, if not real, danger that Pennsylvania would 
become subordinate to her neighbors on the north and south.^^ 

The widespread fear that Pennsylvania might soon slide into decline created a sympathetic 
audience for the advocates of transportation improvement. These boosters were able to build 
upon the fact that the state of Pennsylvania had already demonstrated a willingness to 
contribute to the improvement of the transportation infrastructure with state-funded turnpikes 
throughout the state and canals east of the Susquehanna River. The pro-development 
spokesmen, including many of the leaders of Philadelphia's merchants, bankers, and 
publishers, organized an effective lobby for the creation of a state-funded and owned system 
of public transportation. This lobby took form in the creation of the Pennsylvania Society for 
the Promotion of Internal Improvements in the commonwealth. One of its founding members 
was Mathew Carey, publisher and one of the most effective political propagandists iii the 
United States. The society's efforts to build support for a public works program benefitted 
enormously from Carey's influence and powers of persuasion. 

Carey had begun his career in Ireland as the editor of a radical newspaper that advocated 
revolution against British authority. After fleeing to America to avoid arrest, he became a 
propagandist for the Federalist party and later for the rival Republicans. As a publisher and 

between 1819 and 1833, Mathew Carey became the most prolific writer of 
economic literature in the United States. He flooded the nation with hundreds 
of thousands of his numerous nationalistic pamphlets. Together with . . . 
Nezekiah Niles of Baltimore . . . Carey created the statistical and theoretical 
foundations for (Henry) Clay's American System. 

Carey had long been involved in the Philadelphia banking community. He was an investor 
in the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal and had been a leading figure in the unsuccessful 
effort in 1810-1811 to renew the charter of the First Bank of the United States. As one of the 

58. It is certainly possible that the Society for Internal Improv^ements advocates recognized the very process of 
commercial decline in Philadelphia that Diane Lindstrom describes in her work. If this is the case, however, it is 
less likely that they appreciated its magnitude or would have perceived it as a fait accompli. 

59. Edward C. II. Carter, The Birth of a Political Economist: Mathew Carey and the Recharter Fight of 1810-1811," 
Pennsylvania History 33:275. 


//. Internal Improvements: River Navigation and Canal Building 

architects of Clay's American System, Carey naturally would be attracted to a transportation 
system on the scale of the Pennsylvania public works. ^^ 

Other figures involved in the Society included Joseph P. Norris, president of the Bank of 
Pennsylvania, and Nicholas Biddle, the powerful president of the Second Bank of the United 
States. The Philadelphia banking community was acutely interested in the development of 
public works. This avid support from the city's bankers reflected less on their concern for the 
future for the city's commercial interests than it did on the fact that state investment in public 
works would create an almost unlimited demand for loans from the banks. "By making loans 
to the state to finance (canal) construction the banks expected to benefit from interest 
payments. Most importantly . . . the state would become dependent on the survival of the 
banks and would look more favorably on the banks when it came time for new charters." ^^ 

The Society for Internal Improvements funded a trip by William Strickland, a Philadelphia 
engineer, to inspect transportation improvements in Europe. Strickland's work was supposed 
to be an objective comparison of canal and rail systems, with the society officially neutral on 
the specific mode of transport. Unofficially, however, the society was committed to canals and 
effectively buried Strickland's recommendation for rail development while simultaneously 
using the intelligence he had gathered to solidify support for a cross-state canal. The society 
successfully played upon the state's anxieties over the transportation developments in New 
York and Baltimore, the eastern terminus for traffic on the National Road. The state 
legislature passed the bill authorizing the creation of the Pennsylvania Public Works in 
February of 1826. 

60. Henry Clay's American System included the reestablishment of a national bank, a tariff to protect American 
industry, and a comprehensive program of federally funded internal improvements. Clay, a westerner, John 
Quincy Adams, from New England, and John Calhoun, a southerner, cooperated on the formulahon of this plan 
and intended that the system would be implemented on a national basis to overcome intersectional rivalries. The 
bank and tariff were realized, but with the exception of the National Road, the federal government did not 
contribute to improvements of the transportation infrastructure. 

61. Wallner, Politics and Public Works, 24. 



Elections were won and lost, political careers made and destroyed, and state 
parties grew and disintegrated because of their role in the state-owned canal 
system . . . the significance of the canal and railroad system was not its effect on 
the economy . . . but its effect on state politics.^^ 

The Main Line of Public Works' impact was not limited to the political arena.^'^ It did have 
an effect on the state's economy, if for no other reason than the enormous debt it accumulated 
during its short life span. It also shaped the state's social development. But its construction, 
operation, and maintenance also profoundly altered the evolution of state politics. Its 
functional shortcomings also negatively shaped the public's perception of the effectiveness 
of governmental involvement in the economy. 

The success of the Society for Internal Improvements in promoting development of a canal 
could mislead one to believe that a broad consensus existed for the creation of public 
transportation system. In fact, support for canal resided largely in Philadelphia and 
Pittsburgh, the cities that would form the two termini of the public works, and in the narrow 
corridor between them. Pennsylvanians both to the north and south found public 
expenditures for a project that would benefit them marginally a little harder to digest. 

The northwest corner of the state was already linked to outside markets by Lake Erie and the 
Erie Canal. Many of the counties in the southern and southwest portions of the state, 
including Bedford, Cumberland, Franklin, Lancaster, Lebanon, and York already had strong 
commercial ties to Baltimore. Many of the residents of these counties "opposed a canal that 
would benefit Philadelphia."^ The resistance of these parts of the state created formidable 
political pressure that forced the advocates of state-funded transportation to make significant 
adjustments to their grand vision of the state's public works. 

62. Wallner, Politics and Public Works, vii. 

63. The Pennsylvania Main Line of Public Works consisted of the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, an 82-mile 
rail line, the Eastern Division, a 43-mile canal, the Juniata Division, a 127-mile canal, the Allegheny Portage 
Railroad, covering the 36-mile route between Hollidaysburg and Johnstown, and the Western Division, a 103-mile 
canal. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, The Pennsylvania Main Line Canal. Juniata and Western 
Divisions. Special Study, by David A. Fritz and A. Berle Clemensen, (Denver Service Center 1993). 

64. Wallner, Politics and Public Works, 37. Wallner's statement on the political impact of the canal downplays the 
canal's effect on the state's economy, which was considerable. But the emphasis on politics in his dissertation adds 
some dimension to our understanding of the story of Pennsylvania's public works, a subject that has not received 
a great deal of scholarly attention. 


//. Internal Improvements: River Navigation and Canal Building 

Part of the pro-development force's political problem resided within the very structure of 
Pennsylvania's political system. By the mid-1 820s, the Federalist party that had been most 
amenable to internal improvement projects had effectively ceased to exist. Pennsylvania 
politics, like the politics of the nation at large, operated on a one-party basis. But the 
supporters of the state public works represented only one faction within the state's 
Democratic party. 

However, members of this faction controlled key posts in the legislature, and adroit use of 
this strength probably swung the necessary support for the improvements bill. The most 
prominent of these figures was William Lehman, who chaired the committee on inland 
navigation from 1821 to 1829. Lehman was a member of the Improvements Society, a 
Federalist by political temperament, and he represented Philadelphia's leading merchants and 
bankers who stood to gain from public funding of transportation. The pro-improvement 
faction prospered, as the balkanized nature of the Democratic Party impeded the organization 
of any effort to counter the push for improvements. 

Even so, Lehman and the other pro-improvement politicians had to contend with extensive, 
but unorganized opposition to the state works. Since counties in the northwest and southwest 
opposed the system, the society and later its representatives in the legislature had to promise 
to create feeder canals to virtually every region in the state. This dilution of time, energy, and 
resources probably doomed whatever slim chance the Main Line system had of becoming a 
viable rival to the Erie. 

The eventual victory of the pro-canal forces effectively marked the beginning of the end of 
one-party politics in Pennsylvania. The unification of political power in the east and west 
raised the very real possibility that interests in the north and south would be isolated. "Defeat 
of their interests by the canal advocates resulted in the realization that preparations would 
have to be made to guard these interests in the future."^^ The initial fight over public works 
played a leading role in the creation of a two-party political system within Pennsylvania. This 
in turn helped ensure that the debate over state funding of transportation would be the single 
most important subject in the Pennsylvania legislature for the next 25 years. The canal gave 

65. Wallner, Politics and Public Works, 53. 



the opposition an issue around v^hich it could rally, but it offered little in the way of a 
broader political ideology. The creation of a new political movement in the late 1820s gave 
the anti-improvement forces an identity around which they could coalesce. The Pennsylvania 
Main Line of Public Works played an important in the evolution of the first third-party 
movement in American history. 

In 1826, William Morgan, a disgruntled Mason who had threatened to write a book exposing 
the secrets of the Masonic order, disappeared in upstate New York. When powerful Masons 
thwarted a subsequent investigation of Morgan's disappearance, an anti-Masonic movement 
sprang into existence and quickly spread to other states. Anti-Masons were bound together 
by a conspiracy theory claiming that, among other things. Masons engaged in clandestine 
efforts to control the American political process. The movement attracted support from 
farmers, craftsmen, and those who embraced the evangelical and temperance movements then 
in vogue. Undoubtedly, anti-Masonry expressed the anxieties of those who feared the loss of 
status and affluence in a rapidly evolving market and manufacturing economy. 

In Pennsylvania, anti-Masonry attracted support among these groups and also from the state's 
German population, particularly those of the Plain Sects who opposed the taking of oaths. 
This group traditionally distrusted large government and resisted taxation. A large number 
of these Germans lived in the southern part of the state and believed that the creation of a 
canal would not benefit them. They, like others who did not reside on the east-west axis that 
the canal would follow, believed that they did not have adequate representation in state 
politics. They had opposed the improvements movement in the state without the benefit of 
a political structure. Anti-Masonry provided a larger political framework for the opponents 
of the public works and it spread with remarkable speed. Within a few months in 1829, the 
number of anti-Masonic newspapers in Pennsylvania grew from 18 to 42. Freemasonry was, 
on the surface, ihe only issue in the gubernatorial campaign of 1829. 

Part of this struggle over internal improvements centered upon the political patronage that 
the public works would create. The spoils system that became endemic to Jacksonian-era 
politics ensured that the bureaucratic and operational positions along the Pennsylvania canal 
would provide prized political rewards for loyal hangers-on in whatever administration 


//. Internal Improvements: River Navigation and Canal Building 

happened to control state politics. In May of 1842, J. B. Guthrie, wrote to John Snodgrass, the 
superintendent of motive power for the Allegheny Portage Railroad to recommend 

Mr. Miller (for) a situation on the Portage Rail Road as Engineer. ... As to Mr 
Miller's qualifications, you will be furnished a letter from the Engine Builders 
with whom he served his time. . . . His character is that of an intelligent, sober, 
industrious man, and an undeviating Democrat. 

If you can possibly give him a situation, you will oblige many of your 
Democratic friends in this city. . . .' 

Many canal proponents of a Federalist background viewed the rising support for Andrew 
Jackson in Pennsylvania as a threat both to the project and their control of key positions on 
the canal. 

Patronage centered around the Board of Canal Commissioners, which the state had created 
immediately before the creation of the Erie Canal, "to ascertain the practicability of extending 
the line of communication until it reaches the river Ohio.' The commission wielded 
enormous power over the construction and administration of the canal. In the early years of 
the public works, the commission could act arbitrarily, and almost with impunity. "James S. 
Stevenson, one of the commissioners who had replaced (Abner) Lacock as acting 
commissioner for the Western Division, requested that a canal basin be built on his land 
adjacent to the canal. The commissioners complied with his request." 

The downside, of course, was that the canal commission also made the most visible target for 
critics of the public works. In 1830, the Jacksonian-controlled legislature, under pressure, 
reorganized the board. It reduced the number of commissioners to three and gave the power 
of appointment to the governor. Wallner writes that "These reforms were the culmination of 
a promise made to the voters by the Jacksonians in the election campaign of 1828." These 

66. J. B. Guthrie to John Snodgrass, May 31, 1842, Box 1-1-50 to 12-30-50, file Portage Railroad 3-4-50, Hoenstine 
Rental Library, Hollidaysburg, PA. 

67. Wallner, Politics and Public Works, 13. 

68. Robert D. Ilisevich and Carl K. Burkett Jr., "The Canal Through Pittsburgh: Its Development and Physical 
Character," The Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, October 1985, 363. 

69. Wallner, Peter A. Politics and Public Works, 86. 



reforms were largely window dressing, however, as abuses continued, regardless of which 
political party controlled patronage. 

As anti-Masonry spread, it offered the only viable political mechanism with which to oppose 
Jacksonian Democrats. Its very success tended to dilute its political message, as it attracted 
anti-Jackson Democrats who supported state-financed public works. This was particularly true 
in the western part of the state. The anti-Mason stance on public works narrowed to 
uncontrolled deficit spending and opposition to the construction of branch canals. President 
Jackson's recharter of the Second Bank of the United States in 1832 brought additional 
support to the opposition party, as it drove the National Republicans (later the Whigs) into 
the anti-Mason, anti-Jackson fold. Jackson's legendary war against the Second Bank (and its 
president, Nicholas Biddle) had profound consequences for Pennsylvania's Main Line system. 
In April 1834, Jackson withdrew federal deposits from the bank. His action severely limited 
Pennsylvania's access to credit and development capital for the Main Line. Forced to turn to 
outside sources for credit, Pennsylvania began to sell canal stock in London. 

Nicholas Biddle planned to soften the blow against the bank by winning a Pennsylvania state 
charter for the Bank of the United States when its federal charter expired in 1836. Thaddeus 
Stevens, anti-Mason legislator and publisher, packaged an omnibus bill that would award a 
charter for the bank, and in turn provide loans for the bank for the state public works. The 
bill's supporters promised local branch canals linked to the Main Line to attract votes. The 
omnibus bill also threw a bone to anti-Mason Germans by proposing a reduction of property 
taxes. Biddle claimed to have spent $130,000 to secure the bill's passage. He paid three 
lobbyists $25,000 each to push legislators to vote for the bill. One of these lobbyists was 
Joseph Mcllvaine, a Philadelphia lawyer and the former secretary to the Board of Canal 
Commissioners.''^ Corruption almost certainly played a part in the process. The Democrats 
who were the swing votes in the legislature had been adamantly opposed to its passage. 

70. The logrolling that was a part of the 1836 omnibus bill had become an integral part of the Pennsylvania 
legislative process by the middle of the 1830s. Lobbying the legislature had also become a common, if not 
universally accepted, practice. The absence of solid party structure or leadership left legislators vulnerable to the 
"borers", the professional lobbyists who were ubiquitous in Harrisburg by this time. E\'entually, kickbacks and 
corruption became an inevitable part of state politics. Douglas E. Bowers, "From Logrolling to Corruption: The 
Development of Lobbying in Pennsylvania, 1815-1861," journal of the Early Republic, winter 1985. 


11. Internal Improvements: River Navigation and Canal Building 

The change in political climate in 1836 also certainly played a significant role in securing the 
package. By this time, the anti-Masons, in coalition with Whigs and disaffected Jacksonian 
Democrats, had put one of their own in the Governor's office. Joseph Ritner, a Pennsylvania 
German, had run for governor before on an anti-Mason ticket in 1829. He was portrayed as 
"a virtuous German farmer who was a friend to agriculture, who encouraged domestic 
manufactures and who advocated retrenchment in the expenditure of public money."^^ 
Defeated in 1829, and again in 1832, Ritner was finally elected by an anti-Mason, anti-Jackson 
coalition that had become strong enough to elect a governor and dominate the legislature in 
1835. This meant, of course, that the anti-Masons now assumed responsibility for their 
erstwhile bete noir, the Main Line of Public Works. 

The party's evolution over the previous 10 years made this a more amenable adoption than 
anyone might have predicted during the early battles over internal improvements. The 
creation of an operative political coalition necessarily meant that ideology would be 
subordinated to political expediency. Many of those who joined the anti-Mason banner were 
lukewarm in their resentment of the supposed Masonic conspiracy. In the West, even- those 
anti-Masons who were true believers could still wholeheartedly support the continued 
construction of the public works, for the obvious benefits they could bring to the region. As 
the anti-Masons became the establishment, the Pennsylvania Main Line of Public Works 
became their own. 

Governor Ritner and his anti-Mason supporters attempted to square this circle by codifying 
their earlier equivocal stance on public works. They now endorsed public funding of internal 
improvements, as long as these expenditures were responsible. Ritner reiterated the earlier 
anti-Mason opposition to diverting funds to branches of the public works while endorsing 
state aid to internal improvements. As he said in his address to the legislature on December 
14, 1836, 

71. Wallner, Politics and Public Works, 103. 



It will be perceived that the chief item of expenditure during the last year was 
for the interest of the public debt, and the continuation of the public works. . . . 
Making an aggregate of seven hundred and twenty and one quarter miles. . . . 
Yet such has been the ruinous and detached system pursued in their 
construction, that only four hundred and fifty-five miles of this whole length is 
(sic) now to any useful extent in operation. The Susquehanna division . . . the 
whole of the West Branch . . . the French Creek division . . . and the French 
Creek feeder ... as will appear by the report of the Canal Commissioners, 
scarcely pay their lock keepers. . . . On the other hand, the main line of canal 
and rail road from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh . . . have paid a promising 

Ritner argued that the branches of the Main Line "are mere disjointed begirmings of an 
immense whole, whose plan was never perfected, and whose present condition is a sad proof 
of the selfishness of sectional jealousy, and of log-rolling legislation." Ritner's criticism of 
the politics of internal improvements seems somewhat disingenuous, since his party was built 
in part on sectional jealousy, and by 1836 had shown a remarkable facility for legislative 
logrolling in its own right. Ritner himself displayed some remarkable political acrobatics as 
he contradicted himself in the same speech: 

While on the subject of Internal Improvements, permit me to remark that the 
more modern, though highly useful kinds, should not monopolize our attention 
and care to the exclusion of the older. This State owes much of her early 
prosperity to turnpikes, state and other roads, and many counties still depend 
upon them for access to market. Fayette, Greene, Washington, Westmoreland, 
Somerset, Bedford, Franklin, Adams, York, &c. have had, and still have scarcely 
any other reliance. The fostering care of the Legislature should be continued to 
them, and an enquiry instituted whether the turnpike appropriation made by 
the last session, was sufficient to relieve these beneficial companies. ... It 
should always be kept in mind that the counties which principally rely for an 
outlet to market upon roads of this description, have derived little, if any benefit 
from canal and rail-road expenditure. 

72. Governor Joseph Ritner, Governor's message to the Senate and House of Representati\'es of the commonwealth 
of Pennsylvania. Reprinted in Tlie HoUidaysburg Canal and Portage Register, December 14, 1836, 2-3. This paper was 
one of the staunchly anti-Mason papers in western Pennsylvania and, as its name implies, an outspoken advocate 
for internal improvements. 

73. Ibid., 2 

74. Ibid., 3. 


II. Internal Improvements: River Navigation and Canal Building 

Clearly, Ritner was not forgetting the people who had first helped put anti-Masonry on the 
map in Pennsylvania. It is also clear that western Pennsylvania stood to benefit greatly from 
the course of internal improvements as charted by the anti-Masonry administration. 

The anti-Masons not only inherited the Pennsylvania Public Works. They also became the 
custodians of the Board of Canal Commissioners. Control of the board was truly a two-edged 
sword. The patronage derived from it was of enormous advantage, but it also provided the 
opposition with a handy club to beat the party in power. The anti-Mason coalition now 
received a sample of the invective they had once heaped upon the Jacksonians. But the canal 
commissioners were now in their camp, and the anti-Mason partisans hurried to their defense. 

. . . great pains have been taken, by the enemies of our Public Improvements to 
destroy public confidence in them . . . their object it to destroy our public works, 
and thereby more extensively build up the improvements of New York on its 
ruins. Notwithstanding . . . our public improvements have been conducted 
during the past summer, much better than ever they were before. . . . The Canal 
Commissioners have labored very assiduously to bring about this state of affair- 
and to them the tax-paying farmer is much indebted for their unremitting zeal ^ 
in this good work. 

In some ways the Main Line of Public Works became a Frankenstein's monster that no one 
really controlled. The canal dictated policy to the politicians, who, regardless of party 
affiliation, tended to behave much the same way once in office. The anti-Masons abused the 
power and patronage of the Public Works just as their predecessors had. During the 
gubernatorial campaign of 1838, one of the dirtiest, most corrupt in the state's history, the 
canal commissioners openly campaigned for Ritner. The}^ often fired workers who would not 
pledge loyalty to the governor and demanded that new hires swear to vote for Ritner. 
Contract awards often went to loyal Ritner supporters instead of the low bidder. Canal boats 
that flew pro-Ritner banners often passed through the canals toll-free. ^^ 

75. The Hollidayshurg Canal and Portage Register, November 30, 1836, 3. The summer noted by the author was also 
the first summer that the anti-Masons were in power. This more than coincidental notation reinforces the message 
to the traditional anti-Mason power base that they should be grateful to the current administration. 

76. Wallner, Politics and Public Works, 164. 



The impact of the Pennsylvania Main Line of Public Works on Pennsylvania, (particularly the 
western part of the state), cannot be assessed w^ithout a discussion of the w^ays in which 
development of the system influenced the evolution of the state's political structure. However, 
the public works also significantly affected the social and economic development of the 
region. The Main Line of Public Works worked to a remarkable degree, despite the numerous 
problems that arose from its technological shortcomings and the topography of the 
Alleghenies. The system never seriously rivalled the Erie and it never paid its way. Its most 
distinctive feature, the Allegheny Portage Railroad, was a technological deadend, as far as the 
development of railroading was concerned. Nonetheless, it was one component in a 
transportation network that brought western Pennsylvania into a national and international 
market economy. (Please see the River, Canals, and Railroads, 1825-1840 map.) 





Have just received, direct from Philadelphia (by canal) an extensive supply and 

general assortment of foreign wines and liquors. Their present stock includes the 


10 Pipes and 6 half pipes Cognac brandy, also Holland Gin, port, 
Jamaican Spirits, Irish Whiskey from Belfas (sic), N.E. Rum, 
Madeira, Claret, Sherry, old Port. Also-an assortment of 

James and John Parker 

Pittsburgh, July 24, 1834^^ 

Whatever deficiencies Philadelphia had as a port and commercial center were certainly 
dwarfed by the barriers that western Pennsylvania presented for the development of a cross- 
state canal. Besides the massive front of the Allegheny Ridge, canal builders would also face 
numerous streams and rivers and much greater variations in elevation than those faced by 
the crews on the Erie Canal. The state could not build a purely conventional canal system. 
It would have to devise some technological solutions to the problems posed by the 
topography of the western part of the state. 

n. The Pittsbur^^h Gazette. August 1, 1836, 2. 



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//. Internal Improvements: River Navigation and Canal Building 

Early planning and design for the Main Line system commenced in 1826 without a plan for 
crossing the Allegheny Front. The first Canal Commission appointed to select a route had 
proposed an all-canal system that included a 4-mile canal tunnel through the Alleghenies. 
This grandiose scheme, according to an 1855 history of the Main Line, was so unrealistic that 
"The Commissioners . . . were certainly very far in advance of the age, the time has not even 
yet arrived in which some, who do not consider themselves uninformed, could hear such a 
proposition without finding their risible organs sensibly affected."''^ The tunnel plan was 
abandoned in favor of a portage railroad that would take freight and passengers over the 
Allegheny Ridge on a series of levels and 10 inclined planes. 

The system's builders utilized other technological innovations in order to accommodate the 
canal to the rugged western Pennsylvania geography. The Staple Bend Tunnel, the first 
railroad tunnel in America, provided a shortcut for the Allegheny Portage Railroad as it 
travelled east of Johnstown. The canal also required dams and reservoirs to maintain flow in 
its channel, slackwater dams to improve navigation on the rivers, and a number of aqueducts 
to carry the canal over the Little Conemaugh, Conemaugh, Kiskaminetas, and Allegheny 
rivers and other rivers and streams along its route. The canal workers also built two 800-foot 
tunnels to shorten the canal route. One of these tunnels passed through Grant's Hill at 
Pittsburgh (see figure 4 at the end of this chapter). 

By the standards of the day, the construction of the Main Line system was an enormous 
undertaking. Thousands of workers were employed as laborers, at one time 2,000 were 
working on the Allegheny Portage Railroad alone.'^^ Canal construction spread disease as 
it carried malaria and typhoid fever into areas that had previously been free of these epidemic 
contagions. It also introduced the latest in a series of disruptive immigrant groups to western 
Pennsylvania. The Irish immigrants who made up the bulk of the canal's labor force earned 
a reputation, whether deserved or not, for hard drinking, hard fighting, and a transient 

78. The Main Line of the Pennsylvania State Improvements; Its History, Cost, Revenue, Expenditures and Present and 
Prospective Value, (Philadelphia: T.K. and P.G. Collins, Printers, 1855), 8. One can only wonder what a 
psychoanalyst would make of this statement. 

79. The details of the construction of the Main Line of Public Works have been extensively covered in a number 
of other works, including NPS, USDI, Historic Resource Study, Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site, 
Pennsylvania, by Anna Coxe Toogood (Denver Service Center 1973); NPS, USDI, The Pennsylvania Main Line Canal, 
by David Fritz and Berle Clemensen; and Jacobs, The Juniata Canal and Old Portage Railroad. 



lifestyle that unsettled and offended the established German and Scotch-Irish Americans who 
made up the majority of western Pennsylvania's population. 

The construction of the aqueduct and tunnel in Pittsburgh provides another illustration of the 
political infighting that was so much a part of the Main Line system's construction and 
operation. Surveys of the canal route in the Western Division had determined that following 
the west bank of the Allegheny River was superior to that of the east bank, both in terms of 
cost and simplicity of construction. This would have put the canal's terminus in Allegheny 
City, not in Pittsburgh. Pittsburghers appealed the decision, saying that the 1826 canal 
legislation mandated that the chartered limits of Pittsburgh (which was true). They did not 
mention that they had no intention of losing valuable trade to their cross-river rival. The 
mayor and the Select and Common Coimcils of Pittsburgh then chose the Grant's Hill route, 
the most expensive of the three possible canal routes into the city, in order to avoid 
disrupting the city's development. The civic leaders promised that any cost overruns would 
be absorbed by the city. 

The Allegheny aqueduct was completed on November 10, 1829. Ten thousand observers and 
a "salute of 105 guns from the artillery" commemorated the event. By May of 1831, goods 
could be shipped the entire length of the Western Division, from Pittsburgh to Johnstown. 
The Allegheny Portage Railroad opened in the spring of 1834. With its completion, the 
Pennsylvania Main Line of Public Works was fully operational. Western Pennsylvania was 
now linked in a rapidly evolving national marketplace (see figure 5 at the end of this 

We are gratified to see by the Philadelphia papers, and by the "Report of the 
Philadelphia Board of Trade," that our Great Eastern Metropolis desires a closer 
connexion and intercourse with our city, and for this purpose important 
measures have been taken during the last month or two. We believe that this 
feeling is mutual, and that our intelligent merchants, manufacturers and 
business men generally, begin to see how vitally important it is for this city, 
Philadelphia and State generally, and for the Great West, that, by every radical 
means, and without any unnecessary delay, every facility for mutual intercourse, 
and for cheap and certain transportation and travelling, should be increased. 
The great and almost illimitable West is very rapidly filling up with a very 
numerous, healthy, industrious, intelligent and productive population. . . . 

80. Ilisevich and Burkett, "The Canal through Pittsburgh," 355. 


//. Internal Improvements: River Navigation and Canal Building 

Our population including the city and towns immediately around it, is about 
45,000 souls. The manufacturers and mechanical products, and sales of all kinds, 
of goods, foreign and domestic, by all our manufacturers, wholesale and retail, 
and commission merchants, may be estimated at from twenty to 25 million 

Traditionally, the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal and, specifically, the Allegheny Portage 
Railroad, have been interpreted as important links in an intrastate connection between 
Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. But we see from the above account and many others that 
Pennsylvanians of that period saw it as an important component in a transportation system 
that linked Pennsylvania with the east coast as well as with the Ohio and Mississippi valleys. 
Although the system never rivalled the Erie Canal, either in terms of freight and passengers 
carried, or in revenue returned to the state, it still enhanced the carrying capacity of one of 
the country's most important transportation corridors. In so doing, the Main Line Canal and 
the Portage Railroad brought western Pennsylvania into a wider world. 

Hollidaysburg, the eastern terminus of the Allegheny Portage Railroad, enjoyed a steady, if 
not explosive growth rate during the years in which the Allegheny Portage Railroad operated. 
The town grew large enough to support three newspapers, one of which. The Hollidaysburg 
Canal and Portage Register, began publishing in July of 1836. The paper made its sentiments 
and its politics clear in one of the first issues. 

The Register will be devoted in part to the promotion of Agriculture, 
Manufactures, and internal improvements, the three great causes of the 
prosperity and wealth of Huntingdon County. 

In political discussions the undersigned will be fair, candid, and temperate . . . 
On the presidential question they will advocate WILLIAM HENRY HARRISON 

The paper's editors identified it as a Democratic anti-Mason organ, yet it came out in support 
of the Whig presidential candidate and internal improvements. Clearly, regional economic 
interests took precedence over political ideology. 

81. From The Pittsburgh Gazette. Reprinted in The Hollidaysburg Canal and Portage Register, November 30, 1836, 2. 

82. The Hollidaysburg Canal and Portage Register, July 2, 1836, 1. In the same issue, the paper attacked 
Pennsylvania's "Van Buren" congressmen and endorsed a "Democratic-anti-Mason" ticket for the 1836 elections, 
headed by Harrison, the Whig presidential candidate. 



The paper reported on July 20, 1836, that in the previous year, betu^een July 1 and July 20, 
680,090 pounds had been logged on the weigh scales of the "Portage Road." The paper went 
on to note that "The amount during the same days of the same month of the year 1836 is 
2,657,740 lbs. The above is exclusive of the iron, coal and lumber trade, and is agreeably (sic) 
to the Register kept in the Weigh scales office."^"^ HoUidaysburg, which had so much to gain 
by the success of the Main Line system, took heart from the apparent growing viability of the 

Pittsburgh's commitment to the canal, on the other hand, was more conditional. The 
Pittsburgh Gazette offered a detailed account of the merits of the three main east-west 
transportation corridors — the Erie Canal, the Pennsylvania Main Line System, and the 
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The paper concluded that the Pennsylvania system did not offer 
the best opportunity for the transshipment of Pittsburgh and other western goods to eastern 
markets. The Gazette argued that the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was the route of 
Pittsburgh's future. 

The paper examined the three routes on the basis of their ability to facilitate trade "in 
connection with the Ohio River and the Lakes."^ The Erie, in the Gazette's analysis, was 
only one link in a system of "1008 miles - 670 canal, 145 river, 191 lake - 1377 feet of lockage, 
three transshipments at Albany, Buffalo, and Cleveland." The Pennsylvania Main Line 
system fared better in the Gazette's comparative view, with only 276 canal miles and 118 
railroad miles between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, 5,514 feet in ascent and descent, with two 
transshipments at Johnstown and HoUidaysburg. But the C&O, by contrast, enjoyed 
advantages over both systems. 

when the canal shall have reached Cumberland, the distance from the tide [the 
paper referred to 'the tidewater at Washington City'] to the navigable waters of 
the West will be only 262 (miles), viz: 187 miles by the Chesapeake and Ohio 

83. The HoUidaysburg Canal and Portage Register, July 20, 1836, 2. 

84. The Pittsburgh Gazette, September 30, 1836, 4. 

85. Ibid. 

//. Internal Improvements: River Navigation and Canal Building 

Canal to Cumberland, 75 fron^ thence (on the National Road) to Brownsville on 
the Monongahela. By this route, one transshipment, at Cumberland.^^ 

The Gazette ignored a few negative factors in its promotion of the C&O route. For example, 
goods transported along this route required a second transhipment at Brownsville. Also, the 
writers chose to disregard the high cost of shipping overland by wagon. But on paper, at 
least, the argument appeared to have some merit. 

The Gazette's partisan support illustrates two important points about Pennsylvania commerce 
in the 1830s. First, the southern and western parts of the state still had closer cormections to 
Chesapeake Bay than Philadelphia. Second, and more importantly, Pennsylvanians in both 
the east and the west clearly saw the state's trade as more than a simple intrastate network. 
The Main Line made western Pennsylvania a vital passage in the evolving trade between East 
and West. 

Despite the Gazette's clear preference for bypassing the Main Line system, the paper did not 
refuse advertising revenue from companies carrying freight on the Pennsylvania canal. During 
canal season, which ran roughly from early April to the end of November, the front page of 
the paper carried numerous advertisements from freight and packet (passenger) boats for 
transport between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The paper also carried ads for merchant 
houses that sought to establish themselves as middlemen in the East-West trade. One 
advertisement originally dated February 2, 1836, ran regularly through the end of that year's 
shipping season. It announced that the firm of Riddle, Forsyth, and Co. of Pittsburgh and 
Messrs. Forsyth and Atterbury of Wheeling, Virginia, "have established a house in the city 
of Philadelphia, with the view of transacting a Commission and Produce Business under the 
firm of Riddle, Forsyth and Atterbury. "^'^ 

The firm ran a subsequent advertisement that more clearly illustrated its commercial 
aspirations and the extent of the trading network in which the Pennsylvania canal played a 
part. Riddle, Forsyth, and Atterbury of Philadelphia notified their existing and future clients 
that they "continue to devote their attention exclusively to sales of Western Produce, and the 

86. Ibid. 

87. The Pittsburgh Gazette, September I, 1836, 2. 



execution of Orders for articles to be purchased in this n^arket, or those of the adjacent cities." 
They assured prospective clients that "The usual advances on consignments will be made, 
either directly, or in the west through Messrs. Forsyth and Co., Louisville, Ky; Forsyth and 
Atterbury, Wheeling, Va; or Jacob Forsyth and Co., Pittsburgh, Pa."^^ Another commission 
merchant house. Smith, Bagaley, and Co., of Philadelphia, also notified clients and customers 
that they "are prepared to receive consignments of all descriptions of Western Produce, on 
which they will make liberal advances, direct or by either of the houses of Bagaley and Smith, 
or Olmstead, Smith and Co., Pittsburgh, who will attend to forwarding all Produce consigned 
to them."^^ 

Clearly, the Main Line system served the efforts of these and other commission merchants to 
participate in commerce beyond the boundaries of Pennsylvania. The range of produce 
shipped on the Main Line reflected in the shippers' notices in the regional papers shows that 
the canal played a part in linking Pennsylvania with the rest of the country and Europe. On 
October 19, 1836, a Pittsburgh auctioneer, John M'Faden, posted a notice to customers that 
"The subscriber has now on the canal, and expects to receive daily, Cayenne Pepper . . . 
English Mustard . . . Nutmeg &c., all prime articles. . . . Also, in store, Holland Gin, Cogniac 
[sic] Brandy, Champaign [sic] wine, warranted first rate quality. Port and Malaga Wines, 
Coffee, Ginger, Gentlemen's Silk Hats, Ladies Lasting, Morocco and Leather Shoes and 
Bootees ... all of which will be sold private sale on very accommodating terms. This 
advertisement followed an earlier and much longer notice by M'Faden titled "AUCTION 
SALES. REAL ESTATE." The notice included an insert titled 

The subscriber has now on the canal, and will receive in a few days, about 40 
boxes Sicily Lemons and about 60 boxes Oranges, well selected and in good 
order: also a few barrels Lisbon and Port Wines, and Champagne in baskets. 
Due notice will be given of the day of sale. 

88. The Pittsburgh Gazette, October 1, 1836, 1. This ad had been originally posted on April 25, 1836. Assumably, 
it had run regularly throughout the shipping season. 

89. The Pittsburgh Gazette, July 8, 1836, 2. 

90. The Pittsburgh Gazette, October 19, 1836, 4. 

91. The Pittsburgh Gazette, September 30, 1836, 3. 


//. Internal Improvements: River Navigation and Canal Building 

Obviously, the shipment of luxury goods made the most rational use of the Pennsylvania 
canal and the Allegheny Portage Railroad, as their high rate of return offset the tolls of the 
Main Line system. Such products may have assumed a disproportionate profile with the 
consuming public. Nonetheless, the presence of such goods on the Main Line's canal boats 
indicates that, in however small a fashion, western Pennsylvania was participating in an 
international marketplace. 

In 1836, two years after the completion of the system, a number of companies were operating 
freight and packet service between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and regularly advertised their 
services in the Pittsburgh papers. These firms included the Good Intent, Swift Line, D. Leech 
and Co.'s Western Transportation Line, the Pennsylvania and Ohio Transportation Co., the 
Union Transportation Line, and the Pioneer Fast Line. The Good Intent, Swift Line advertised 
that it was connected to the Good Intent Steam Packet Line to Louisville. The Pioneer Fast 
Line boasted that its packet boats and railway cars made the trip between Philadelphia and 
Pittsburgh in less than four days, with the comforting added benefit that their cars would be 
"passing over all the rail roads in daylight." The Western Transportation Co. advertised 
that it was prepared to "transport to and from Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, 75 TONS 
MERCHANDISE DAILY (emphasis original) in the shortest possible time." The first two years 
of its operation as a complete system saw the Main Line fulfilling its intended function as a 
link between the Atlantic seaboard and the Ohio Valley. 

A cursory review of a handful of the region's newspapers reveals that western Pennsylvania 
had an avid interest in international affairs, at least in those events that were unfolding in the 
Republic of Mexico. American immigrants and filibusters in Mexico had only recently rebelled 
and declared the creation of the Republic of Texas. From the level of coverage of these events 
in the Pittsburgh and Hollidaysburg newspapers, western Pennsylvanians were keenly 
concerned over the course that the Texican Revolution was taking. 

A remarkable number of advertisements and notices in the papers of Pittsburgh and 
Hollidaysburg throughout 1836 began with the heading "News from Mexico!" Invariably, the 

92. TJie Good Intent Line, both canal boats and steamboats, collapsed in the Panic of 1837. 

93. The Pittsburgh Gazette, November 28, 1836, 1. 



notices were concerned with everything from dry goods to women's hats and carried not a 
shred of news on events in Mexico. Clearly, the day's marketing experts recognized that the 
growing conflict in Mexico was of enormous interest to the papers' readership and was an 
irresistible lead-in for more prosaic business of the day.^"* 

The Pittsburgh Gazette directly addressed the controversy over the revolution in Mexico. In 
May of 1836, only two month after the fall of the Alamo, the paper praised President Andrew 
Jackson, referring to him as "General Jackson," for his moderate stance on the Texas question. 
Jackson had recently made a statement concerning the obligation of the United States to 
observe a strict neutrality "in the internal war going on in Mexico." The paper expressed relief 
that Jackson's letter averted the threat 

to force this free and prosperous nation into a contest with Mexico, on behalf of 
what is called the liberty of Texas ... a war with Mexico, in such a quarrel as 
that which speculators in lands and speculators in slaves . . . had nearly blown 
into a flame, would be one of dishonor, of suffering, and of loss incalculable.^^ 

Western Pennsylvanian opposition to American intervention in Mexico was based on both 
political and economic considerations. Almost certainly, it expressed Whig resistance to any 
American expansionism that would further the cause of southern slaveholders. There is at 
least a hint, however, that western Pennsylvania's concerns centered upon the possibility that 
any conflict between the United States and Mexico would have been disruptive to the region's 
commercial interests. A small amount of evidence exists to indicate that Pittsburgh either had 
established, or sought to establish, trading relations with Mexico. 

94. On August 10, 1836, the Hollidaysburg Canal and Portage Register reprinted an account of the aftermath of the 
Battle of the Alamo. The letter was written by a Texan who had fought at the Battle of San Jacinto and had 
recovered Davy Crockett's journal from the baggage of a Mexican general who been at the Alamo. According to 
his account, Crockett and five others were captured in the final fight for the Alamo and then executed, despite 
the intercession of the general who had taken his journal. The register report of this version of the battle was 
remarkably dispassionate. Apparently, this information was more or less common knowledge at the time. The 
myth of the defenders of the Alamo fighting to the last man had not yet been impressed into the American 

95. Jackson was not exactly a shrinking \'iolet when it came to intervening in another nation's territory in pursuit 
of what he perceived as the United States' interests. In 1818, he led American forces into Spanish Florida in pursuit 
of Seminole Indians, with whom the U.S. was at war. By the same token, he was not an ardent defender of the 
rights of not-whites. His reluctance to intervene in Mexico, therefore, probably tells us a lot about his opinion of 
the legitimacy of the Texan claims of independence. 

96. The Pittsburgh Gazette, May 25, 1836, 4. 


U. Internal Improvements: River Navigation and Canal Building 

By 1846, travel and trade on the Main Line system was integrated with a more sophisticated 
trade network. Shipping advertisements in the Pittsburgh newspapers had increased 
significantly over the last 10 years, and now included large numbers of notices for steamboat 
travel west to the Ohio River ports, south on the Monongahela to eastern links via the 
National Road at Brownsville and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Canal companies made up 
a smaller proportion of the advertisers for freight and passengers, but appeared to be 
flourishing nonetheless. The Beaver Argus reported that "On the canals, the daily packets are 
afloat for Cleveland and Erie: and on the river, the Erie . . . leaves at 8 AM for Pittsburgh; the 


Michigan at 2. for Cincinnati. . . .' 

The number of companies operating freight and packet service on the Pennsylvania also had 
increased by 1846. Only one of the companies that had been in operation in 1836, the 
Western Transportation Co., was still doing business. The others, like the Good Intent, Swift 
Line probably went bankrupt in the upheaval following the Panic of 1837. But a host of new 
names appear among those companies advertising their services on the canal. At least seven 
other firms were in operation on the canal at this time. Many of these firms now 
advertised themselves as "Portable Boat" lines or companies. They did this to highlight the 
fact that transport on the Main Line system no longer required transshipment of goods from 
canal boats to rail cars and back again. The canal boats now were built in sections that could 
be loaded directly onto rail flat cars, pulled over the Allegheny Portage, and then reassembled 
in the canal basins. 

The developing infrastructure of the canal offers some indication of the traffic passing 
between East and West. The Pittsburgh area alone had five canal basins; one in Allegheny 
Town, and four in downtown Pittsburgh. Other sections of the canal were widened to serve 
as improvised basins. Canal basins became centers of commercial activity as warehouses, 
hotels, taverns and offices were built on them to support canal traffic. With the condemnation 
of the original Allegheny canal aqueduct, John Roebling, who had established a wire rope 
factory near Pittsburgh, built its replacement. The new Pittsburgh Aqueduct was the first of 

97. The Beaver Argus. Reprinted in the Pittsburgh Daily Commercial Journal, April 11, 1846, 3. 

98. One of these companies, the Reliance Portable Boat Line, was owned in part by "Jno. Mc Fadden and Co., 
canal basin, Pittsburgh. This is perhaps the auctioneer "John M'Faden" of ten years before. If so, he represents the 
potential for self-improvement for those involved in trade along the Main Line. 



Roebling's cable suspension structures and one of the first in the country. Roebling's wire 
ropes by this time were already being applied on the Allegheny Portage Railroad, replacing 
the hemp ropes that were originally used. 

Philadelphia commission merchants continued to advertise in the Pittsburgh papers for goods 
transported from the West. For example, Solis and Brothers, of Philadelphia, solicited "Skins 
and Shipping Furs of every description. Bought for cash at the highest market."^^ Even 
though the trade in beaver pelts declined after 1840, furs and skins, particularly buffalo hides, 
were still being taken in the West for Eastern markets. Almost certainly, they comprised an 
element of the trade carried on between the United States and Mexico along the Santa Fe Trail 
between 1821 and 1870. 

Santa Fe Traders — The following gentlemen arrived on Saturday, on the North 
Carolina, for the purpose of procuring Pittsburg [sic] manufactures for the Santa 
Fee [sic] trade - Messrs. Jno. C. Armigo, Nesta Armiga, Joseph Golreis, Mitteana 
Edracio, Micatante Otaro, Lantrage Floris, Ambrose Armigo, Francis Chacis, 
Joachim Parah, Philip Chacis. 

In the spring of 1846, some of the most prominent New Mexican traders involved in this 
trade travelled to Pittsburgh to acquire goods for trade with Mexico. Their interest in 
"Pittsburgh manufactures" implies that the city already had been linked to the far western 
trade that extended to Santa Fe and Chihuahua, Mexico. According to an article reprinted 
from the St. Louis Republican, Pittsburgh had stolen a march on a city far more conveniently 
situated to provide support services for the traders of the Santa Fe Trail. 

We learn that this (the Mexican trade) will be very considerable this year. . . . 
Large orders have already been given for wagons, harness, &c. at Independence, 
and still larger orders will have been filled in Pittsburgh. OUR (emphasis 
original) mechanics, it seems are not so careful of their interests as they might 
be, in no*: turning their attention to this branch of business. 

99. The Pittsburgh Daily Commercial Journal, April 16, 1846, 1. 

100. The Pittsburgh Daily Commercial Jourttal, April 6, 1846, 2. 

101. Reprinted from the St. Louis Republican. The Pittsburgh Daily Commercial Journal, April 7, 1846, 2. 

//. Internal Improvements: River Navigation and Canal Building 

Some of the luxury items transported on the Pennsylvania canal would have commanded 
premium prices in the trade West. One Philadelphia merchant house. Wood, Abbott and 
Wood, specialized in the trade of English woolens with the western United States, Mexico, 
and South America. The firm's original connections to southern markets had been through 
New Orleans. By the 1830s, Richard Wood, the head of the firm, became increasingly involved 
"in the improvement of transportation between Philadelphia and the hinterland. Wood's 
concern with this . . . development was of fundamental importance to the enlargement of his 
own market possibilities as well as to the economic growth of Philadelphia. "^°^ Some 
portion of Wood's commercial ties with Mexico may still have been maintained overland 
along the Independence-Santa Fe corridor. 

The outbreak of hostilities between U.S. and Mexican forces in May 1846 disrupted American- 
Mexican commerce. Even with this change of fortune, however, western Pennsylvania 
maintained some trading ties with the Southwest. According to an interview conducted many 
years after the end of the canal era in western Pennsylvania, the canal boats tied up in the 
basins at 10 P.M., but "Old timers claim that in rush seasons like during the Mexican' War, 
boats ran all night on the Juniata Canal."^*^"^ 

By the late 1840s, however, the Pennsylvania Main Line system was already poised on the 
edge of an irreversible decline. The system's deficiencies had already made themselves 
apparent to the Philadelphia merchant community that had pressed so hard for the creation 
of the system in the first place. Philadelphians were now clamoring for the creation of a cross- 
state rail line, to enhance the city's competitive position with Baltimore and the expanding 
Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&0).^°'* Never straying far from its traditional trading 
relationship, western Pennsylvania agitated regularly for the extension of the B&O's charter 
through Cumberland along the Youghiogheny to the Ohio. At one point, the state's western 
counties threatened secession if the charter were not granted. Pushing for the a direct line 
between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Eastern interests resisted such an extension. 

102. Frederick J. Glover, "Philadelphia Merchants and the Yorkshire Blanket Trade, 1820-1860," Pennsylvania 
History 28 (1961):133. 

103. The Altoona Tribune, October 27, 1939, box 1-1-43 to 12-31-43, Hoenstine Library, Hollidaysburg, PA. 

104. Wallner, Politics and Public Works, 237. 



The system of public works had accumulated a staggering debt in the years of its operation. 
English investors held as much as 2/3 of the Pennsylvania improvement debt. Much of the 
debt w^as in the form of bonds originally purchased by the Bank of Pennsylvania, an 
institution whose majority owner was the state of Pennsylvania. This put foreign investors 
in the curious position of owning a portion of Pennsylvania.^*^^ The Main Line, 
accumulating a $40 million debt by the end of its operation, was not a particularly attractive 

The collapse of the Anti-Masonic movement in the late 1830s and the more intense sectional 
differences that followed the Mexican- American War gradually pushed internal improvements 
out of the center of the political arena. The Pennsylvania Main Line Canal and the Allegheny 
Portage Railroad became instantly superfluous when the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) 
completed its line to Pittsburgh. 

Before the PRR breached the Allegheny Front with the completion of the Horseshoe Curve 
and the Gallitzin Tunnel, however, it was still dependent upon the Allegheny Portage as a 
means to get its cars over the Alleghenies. J. Edgar Thomson, the chief engineer of the 
Pennsylvania Railroad, wrote to W. S. Campbell, the engineering superintendent of the 
Allegheny Portage Railroad, requesting that he keep the portage open until the 9th of 
December, rather than close on the 30th of November. He also requested that Campbell fix 
a date for closing the portage, rather than leaving closure to be determined by weather 
conditions. This foreshadows, in a very small way, the increased level of rational business 
planning and management that the rail industry would bring to transportation in western 

The mere fact of writing this letter probably galled Thomson, an engineer in his own right, 
as it acknowledged the Pennsylvania Railroad's continued dependence on a failed technology. 
But with the completion of the Horseshoe Curve west of Altoona in 1854, the days of the 
Allegheny Portage were effectively ended. In 1857, the Pennsylvania Railroad acquired the 
Main Line right-of-way for $7.5 million, a fraction of the debt it had accumulated over the 
previous 30 years. 

105. Harvey Hirst Segal, "Canal Cycles, 1834-1861. Public Construction Experience in New York, Pennsylvania, 
and Ohio." (PhD. diss., Columbia University, 1956), 130. 


11. Internal Improvements: River Navigation and Canal Building 

The development of the Main Line system in western Pennsylvania paralleled the continued 
development of transportation on the region's navigable rivers. Even as Pittsburgh's 
shipbuilding industry settled into a decades-long decline, steamboat technology began to 
revolutionize the transportation of goods and passengers on the western rivers. These 
developments significantly shaped social, economic, and political growth in the trans- 
Appalachian West.^^^ 

Steam technology for river transportation was first introduced in the eastern United States in 
the last decades of the 1700s. A Philadelphia entrepreneur named John Fitch tried and failed 
before 1800 to introduce regular steamboat service on the Delaware River. Fitch and others 
had long advocated the use of steam power as an answer to the problem of upstream 
navigation on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. The first voyage of Robert Fulton's Clermont 
on the Hudson River in 1807 demonstrated the potential practicality of steamboats for 
commercial river transport. But their application on the swiftly flowing western rivers 
depended on the development a relatively high-compression steam engine. The construction 
of a steamboat for western service followed very quickly after Fulton's launch of the 
Clermont. Fulton, in association with other boat builders and developers, launched the 
steamboat New Orleans from Pittsburgh in 1811. This vessel travelled downstream to the city 
of New Orleans, where it served in the Mississippi trade until sunk in 1814. 

The New Orleans did not demonstrate the practicality of upstream navigation as dramatically 
as did another Pennsylvania boat. The steamboat Enterprise, a product of Brownsville, on the 
Monongahela River, completed a roundtrip between New Orleans and her home port in 1815. 
This steamboat made an early, and convincing statement about the practicability of steam 
navigation on the Ohio-Mississippi river systems. The rapid construction of the New Orleans, 
the voyage of the Enterprise, and the early development of steamboat construction in the 
Ohio-Monongahela drainage all testify to the powerful incentives presented in the trans- 
Appalachian trade even in the early 1800s. It also presages the vital role of Pittsburgh and the 
surrounding region in the era of steamboat transportation in the trans- Appalachian West. 

106. Much of the information in the following account may be found in Louis C. Hunter, Steamboats on the Western 
Rivers, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1949). 



An obvious but critical element that spurred development of transportation on the river 
systems of the trans-Appalachian West was the region's explosive population growth in the 
period 1800-1860. The population of the United States experienced an astonishing rate of 
growth in this period, doubling roughly every 22 years. The rate of growth in the western 
states and territories, where the population doubled every 10 years between 1810 and 1830, 
surpassed the national rate. By 1840, one in three Americans lived west of the 

Pittsburgh's growth rate easily matched that of the region as a whole. The city's population 
grew tenfold between 1810 and 1850, from 4,768 to 46,601. Pittsburgh owed this remarkable 
growth rate to several factors. Its rapidly developing industrial base certainly played a 
significant role, surviving two major economic downturns in 1819 and 1837. The city became 
the leading industrial center in the West. Pittsburgh's strategic location at the forks of the 
Ohio made it the logical focus of commercial and industrial activity for the areas drained by 
the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers and their tributaries. Many of the communities on the 
eastern side of the Allegheny watershed were tied to Pittsburgh as well, via the Pennsylvania 
Road and the Pennsylvania Main Line canal. A large number of the region's iron masters, 
distillers, and farmers turned to Pittsburgh as the conduit to the expanding markets in the 
Ohio and Mississippi valleys. These factors combined to establish the city as one of the five 
leading western river ports between 1820 and 1860 (see figure 6 at the end of this 

Growth in the trans- Appalachian West was overwhelmingly, but not exclusively rural. Besides 
Pittsburgh, a number of other cities grew rapidly in the decades before the Civil War. 
Cincinnati; Wheeling, Virginia; Louisville; St. Louis; Natchez; New Orleans; and smaller towns 
created the urban element that gave the West the commercial, industrial, and cultural links 
necessary to the development of the region's economic and social diversity. Far from seeking 
to escape life along the more developed Atlantic seaboard, many emigrants to the West 
sought to re-create, as much as possible, the conditions and quality of life they had known 

107. Davidson, Nation of Nations, 1:354. 

108. The other leading ports were Cincinnati, Louisville, St. Louis, and New Orleans. 


//. Internal Improvements: River Navigation and Canal Building 

before they had crossed the Alleghenies.^^^ The rise of this urban setting also tied western 
Pennsylvania into a rapidly developing interstate network. Pittsburgh's trade for the most 
part was conducted with nearby cities, primarily Louisville and Cincinnati. But the city also 
sent steamboats as far west as St. Louis and as far south as New Orleans, the southern 
terminus of western river navigation. 

Pittsburgh and its hinterland contributed significantly to the evolution of commerce and 
transportation in the West. The towns of the Ohio valley dominated the steamboat 
construction industry in the West of the Appalachians, and by 1831, Pittsburgh had become 
the largest steamboat building center in the West. The same factors that had earlier made 
Pittsburgh a viable shipbuilding port also helped propel it to a position of leadership in the 
construction of steamboats. The city's well-developed industrial base contained the necessary 
foundries, rolling mills machine shops, and skilled labor force to produce the iron fittings 
necessary for construction. Most important, Pittsburgh craftsmen provided the technical 
expertise to produce the high-pressure steam engines that were essential to western 
navigation. Pittsburgh held a leading position in this obviously vital field throughout the 
steamboat era. The region's extensive forests yielded the timber necessary for the boats' hulls 
and superstructures, and its mines provided the coal for fuel. 

The steamboat industry spilled over from Pittsburgh into other river cities and towns in 
western Pennsylvania. Shousetown, Freedom, and Beaver along the Ohio and Brownsville 
along the Monongahela all were home to steamboat builders. Brownsville was the oldest and 
most important boatbuilding center on the Monongahela. The boatyards at Brownsville built 
the first steamboat to make a round-trip from the headwaters of the Ohio to New Orleans, 
and Brownsville remained a steady producer of steamboats for much of the 19th century. 
Other Monongahela boatbuilding centers were Elizabeth, a serious rival to Brownsville, as 
well as Monongahela, Belle Vernon, McKeesport, and California. The boatyards at California 
did not begin operations until 1852, but the town's boatwrights laid 131 hulls during the next 
27 years. ^^° 

109. Wade, Richard C. The Urban Frontier: Pioneer Life in Early Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Lexington, Louisville, and St. 
Louis. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959), 34, and elsewhere. 

110. John Kent Folmar, "The Monongahela River Steamboat Industry: California, 1852-1879," Western Pennsylvania 
Historical Magazine, October 1981, 392. 



The Allegheny and Monongahela rivers were also important transportation corridors for the 
exploitation of the region's vast natural resources. The development of navigation along the 
Monongahela facilitated the shipment of coal from the rich bituminous fields of southv/estem 
Pennsylvania. Steamboats played virtually no role in the early carriage of coal, other than 
their own fuel, but their use as tugs in the 1850s greatly enhanced shipment from the 
coalfields to the furnaces at Pittsburgh. The traffic on the Allegheny was not as developed as 
that on the Mon and the Ohio, but it still played an important role in both regional and 
national commerce. The forests of the upper Allegheny produced enormous quantities of 
lumber. Much of this was transported downstream in log rafts that travelled as far south as 
New Orleans and as far west as the Missouri River. Western Pennsylvania's combination of 
raw materials, strategic geography, well-developed industrial infrastructure and transportation 
corridors established the region as one of the most important components in the dramatic 
transformation of the trans- Appalachian West before the Civil War (see figure 7 at the end 
of this chapter). 

Pittsburgh's rise as the preeminent steamboat building center in the West also helped to 
revive the city's long dormant shipbuilding industry. Shipbuilding enjoyed a resurgence in 
the United States after 1840. American shipwrights began to employ steam technology for 
motive power and iron for a structural material. As a leader in the construction of engines 
for steamboats, in addition to its other manufacturing and resource bases, Pittsburgh was well 
suited to reenter the shipbuilding industry. 

The federal government provided the initial impetus to the city's manufacturers to expand 
into shipbuilding. Pittsburgh became the birthplace of the first American iron warship. In 
1841, the U. S. Navy chose Pittsburgh as the site of construction of an iron steam warship for 
duty on the Great Lakes. The Pittsburgh firm of Stackhouse and Tomlinson constructed the 
warship at their yard on the Allegheny, dismantled it for transport by canal to Erie, and 
reassembled it as the U.S.S. Michigan. On the heels of the development, the United States 
Revenue Service commissioned three iron revenue cutters from Pittsburgh shipyards for duty 
on the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico. 

Pittsburgh shipyards built a number of other vessels for the Navy in the 1840s. They also 
built commercial vessels on contract for east coast shipping companies that were attracted by 


//. Internal Improvements: River Navigation and Canal Building 

Pittsburgh's lower material and labor costs. Shipbuilding in Pittsburgh continued on a steady, 
though not spectacular pace until brought to a temporary halt by the Panic of 1857. The 
beginning of the Civil War brought a brief resurgence to this industry, but a major post-war 
drop in American shipbuilding continued through the end of the century and up to the 
beginning of World War I. Pittsburgh, a minor factor in this industry, dropped completely 
from sight. 

The Civil War also provided great impetus to Pittsburgh's steamboat industry. By 1860, 
however, the end of the grand era of river transportation was already in sight. Both the 
Baltimore & Ohio and the Pennsylvania railroads had reached Pittsburgh and were sending 
their main lines into the western states that had once depended on the rivers as their major 
transportation arteries. The level to which technology could improve river navigation was 
actually quite limited. The length of meandering streams, irregular water levels, snags, falls, 
sandbars, and awesome boiler explosions that sank western steamboats with disheartening 
frequency, made life precarious for the country's brown water sailors. All of these problems 
were beyond the mitigating abilities of 19th century technicians. 

Relatively modest rail technology, on the other hand, had reached the Mississippi River by 
the beginning of the Civil War. Improvements in motive power and standardization of track 
gauges, the advantages of economies of scale that encouraged the creation of large corporate 
rail companies, the creation of an efficient management bureaucracy, and a sympathetic 
government attitude to the development of private enterprise all contributed to rail's 
explosive growth in this period. Railroads would soon eclipse both canal and river 
transportation, and revolutionize the American economy of the 19th century. 


Figure 4: Pennsylvania Main Line Canal — Canal Basin and Weigh Lock at Johnstown. 

The main line system created an extensive infrastructure to support the canal's commercial 
activities. Courtesy of the Railroaders Memorial Museum, Altoona, PA. 


Figure 5: Pennsylvania Main Line Canal — First Aqueduct Over the Little Conemaugh 
River, Johnstown. The canal also required significant technological improvements to overcome 
western Pennsylvania's demanding topography. Courtesy of the Railroaders Memorial Museum 
Altoona, PA. 



Figure 6: Steamboat Engraving. This early engraving captures the diverse and dynamic 
character of one of the West's largest river ports. The vessel at far left appears to be an oceangoing 
side-wheeler. Pittsburgh, n.d. Courtesy of the Railroaders Memorial Museum, Altoonn, PA. 


Figure 7: Coal Barges and Steamboats at the Forks of the Ohio. This early photograph 
shows how the focus of river traffic changed in response to Pittsburgh's increasing 
industrialization, n.d. Courtesy of the Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, PA. 


III. A Transportation Revolution: 
Railroads and the Rise of an Industrial Order 

The development of the railroad and the development of both the state of Pennsylvania and 
the United States are intimately bound up together. In the years following the war of 1812, 
the port cities of Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston began to compete for 
dominance of the western trade. Transportation routes and technologies proved to be a critical 
factor in the fates of these cities and of the western communities with whom they traded. 
Canals played a large role in the race for commercial dominance, but they forced an early 
debate over the feasibility of railroad development. Those who engaged in the early debates 
sensed that the new technology called the railroad would have great economic and social 
repercussions. But few could have imagined the nature and extent of the railroad's impact 
on the economic, technological, material, social, and cultural life of the United States. 



The railroad as a means of transporting passengers and freight first appeared in England in 
the mid-1820s.^^^ In September 1825, the Stockton & Darlington began operations between 
Stockton and Darlington in the coal mining area of Durham County, England, south of 
Newcastle. Surveyed and designed by George Stephenson, the Stockton & Darlington 
employed both steam-powered locomotives, designed by Stephenson, for pulling cars on level 
ground and steam-powered inclined planes, designed by Stephenson's son Robert, for pulling 
cars up and letting them down the steep grades along the 12-mile line. George Stephenson 
had gained design and operating experience with steam locomotives in the region's coal 
mining industry. After completing the Stockton & Darlington, he then undertook the 
surveying and engineering work for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, the railroad that 
captured the western world's attention in 1829 when the Rainhill trials were conducted to 
determine the best locomotive design for the railroad. In front of thousands of spectators, 
engineers, mechanics, and scientists, locomotives designed and built by four different 
engineers competed over several days for both honor and a monetary prize. Robert 
Stephenson's Rocket captured the 500-pound prize while also demonstrating to skeptical 
investors in the Liverpool & Manchester that steam-powered locomotives were not only 
feasible but were also desirable.^ ^^ England underwent a railway boom that would soon 
be followed by one in the United States. 

Both of George Stephenson's pioneering railroads inspired merchants, capitalists, and 
engineers in the United States who, in the wake of the completion of the Erie Canal, were 
aggressively searching for new modes of transportation. The Erie Canal was formally 
completed in October 1825, and its construction set off a canal craze in the United States. As 
early as 1819, when the first section of the state-financed Erie was opened, the ultimate 
success and impact of the canal became evident: heavy traffic on the first and successively 
opened sections generated revenue from tolls, thereby aiding the canal's completion, and New 
York City appeared poised to dominate the western trade. 

111. Peter Mathias, The First Industrial Nation: An Economic History of Britain, 1700-1914 (New York: Charles 
Scribner and Sons, 1969). 

112. Samuel Smiles, The Life of George Stephenson, Railway Engineer (London: John Murray, 1857). For more recent 
work on the Stephensons and their railway work, see L.T.C. Rolt, George and Robert Stephenson: The Railway 
Revolution (London: Green and Co., Ltd., 1960), and Robert E. Carlson, The Liverpool and Manchester Railway Project 
(Newton Abbott: David and Charles, 1969). 


///. A Transportation Revolution: Railroads and the Rise of an Industrial Order 

To merchants of Philadelphia, Boston, and Baltimore, the solution to the problem seemed 
simple: build a competitive canal westward from their own respective cities. But the solution 
was not that simple, especially for those in Philadelphia and Baltimore. First, unlike the New 
York's Erie Canal, canals built westward from Baltimore and Philadelphia would have to 
cross the formidable Allegheny Mountains, thereby posing enormous engineering and 
operating problems. Second, the apparent success of Stephenson's Stockton & Darlington 
railroad, though only 12 miles long, raised the question of whether a railroad might not be 
a better solution to these cities' problems. Yet engineering knowledge about railroads was 
virtually nonexistent in the United States in the 1820s. This fact notwithstanding, merchants, 
capitalists, politicians, and the few existing engineers knew that the critical question, however, 
was not whether to try to compete with New York and its Erie Canal but whether to build 
a canal or a railroad. Philadelphians and Pennsylvanians would face this question head-on 
in the mid- to late 1820s.^^^ 

The state of Pennsylvania established a three-member board of canal commissioners in late 
March 1824 to report on possible routes for and the feasibility of a canal from Philadelphia 
to Pittsburgh. At this time, the Pennsylvania Society for the Promotion of Internal 
Improvements was organized to gain and diffuse technical and commercial knowledge about 
internal improvements in other states and foreign countries. By March 1825, the society had 
published eight technical papers on turnpikes, canals, and railroads and distributed 1,000 
copies of those papers throughout the commonwealth. The Society moved still more 
aggressively in early 1825 when it sent William Strickland, a Philadelphia architect and 
engineer (a protege of the English-bom and trained Benjamin Henry Latrobe), to England and 
Europe to investigate firsthand the state-of-the-art turnpikes, canals, and railroad systems 
operating there. By April 1825 Strickland began to send back detailed and exquisitely 
illustrated reports of his findings, which were published in 1826 in a bound volume entitled 
Reports on Canals. Railways, and Other Subjects. 

Strickland's observations and his report proved to be of major significance to the history of 
internal improvements in Pennsylvania. Upon his return to the United States, he served on 

113. Julius Rubin, "Canal or Railroad? Imitation and Innovation in Response to the Erie Canal in Philadelphia, 
Baltimore, and Boston," in Transactions of the American Philosophical Society: 51 (1961). An excellent treatment of the 
canal vs. railroad question is provided. 



a newly appointed board of canal commissioners to determine a route for a canal from 
Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. Unlike the earlier board's report, the new board dropped the idea 
of a canal over the Alleghenies because of the lack of a sufficient water supply. Instead, the 
board recommended a portage railroad over the Alleghenies consisting of five inclined planes 
separated by level areas. Canal boats would be transported on rail carriages over the portage 

Pennsylvania's legislature balked at this part of the board's plan. It authorized construction 

of the proposed canal on each side of the Alleghenies but called for a reinvestigation of the 

transmountain route. After almost three years of study and debate about the best way to get 

over the mountains, the board had not convinced the legislature of the merits of its original 

recommendations. In December 1828, the board appointed Moncure Robinson as chief 

engineer and charged him with investigating the possibility of building a canal, railroad, or 

turnpike over the Alleghenies. Like Strickland, Robinson had surveyed transportation 

developments in England and Europe. When his report was submitted in November 1829, it 

reaffirmed the use of a portage railroad consisting of inclined planes with stationary steam 


The legislature again balked at Robinson's recommendations and created a new Board of 
Engineers to survey a different route. In its report the new board again confirmed the broad 
outlines of the earlier recommendations by Strickland and Robinson. The report stated 
categorically that the lack of a summit water supply made a canal over the Alleghenies 
technically impossible. Finally, in March 21, 1831, the Pennsylvania Legislature voted to 
authorize the construction of the Portage Railroad, five years after its first authorization to 
begin construction of a canal route to the West. 

When the Railroad was completed in March 1834, it was one of the first railroads 
built and operated in the United States. Its total cost to the state of Pennsylvania was fixed 
at $1,860,753, but additional costs would be incurred both in equipment and operations. The 
railroad was hailed as an engineering wonder by knowledgeable engineers and the public. 

114. Robinson's report, which appeared in the Pennsylvania House Journal, vol II, doc. 138, 1827-1828, is reprinted 

in the Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers 15 (1886): 183-202. 


///. A Transportation Revolution: Railroads and the Rise of an Industrial Order 

David Stevenson, a British civil engineer, traveled over the Portage Railroad when he toured 
the United States and commented about it in his 1838 book as follows: 

[America] now numbers among its many wonderful lines of communication, a 
mountain railway, which, in boldness of design, and difficulty of execution, I can 
compare to no modem work I have ever seen, excepting perhaps passes of the 
Simplon, and Mont Cenis, in Sardinia; but even these remarkable passes, viewed as 
engineering works, did not strike me as being more wonderful than the Allegheny 
[Portage] Railway in the United States."^ ^^ 

Although an impressive piece of early American engineering, the Portage Railroad soon 
became obsolete as the Pennsylvania Canal itself became obsolete. Advanced railroad 
technology — in New York and Maryland — drove this process of rapid obsolescence. 

Indeed, the very existence of the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal and the enormous sum of 
money that the state and various counties had poured into the construction and operation of 
the canal delayed or stunted railroad development in Pennsylvania's key transportation 
corridors, including that occupied by the Main Line of Public Works. "Both Pennsylvania and 
Ohio levied special taxes on certain traffic carried by railroads which competed directly with 

The Portage Railroad and the other parts of the Pennsylvania Main Line system represent the 
physical manifestation of a philosophy that prevailed in Pennsylvania during much of the 
19th century — the "state as entrepreneur . . . shaping decisively the contours of economic 
life." As with any entrepreneur, the government used a variety of tools to promote 
economic growth in Pennsylvania, including transferring new technology to the state, funding 
the development of new knowledge, skills, and technologies, and pushing the limits of the 
new technology to such a degree that old technologies rapidly became obsolete. Pennsylvania 
spent some $100 million to build and operate the Main Line Canal and railroad system. 

115. David Stevenson, Sketch of the Civil Engineering of North America (London: John Weale Architectural Library, 
1838), 266. 

116. Taylor, Transportation Revolution, 75 and 85. 

117. Louis Hartz, Economic Policy and Democratic Thought: Pennsylvania, 1776-1860 (Cambridge: Harvard University 
Press, 1948), 289. 



Before private capitalists would be w^illing to invest heavily in enterprise, societies had to 
invest a certain amount of their capital to promote the general welfare. Investment in 
transportation systems, communications systems, etc. was thus investment in the general 
welfare and a precondition for sustained economic growth. The Pennsylvania Main Line canal 
and railroad system fall under this category. Due in part to this support, the railroad in the 
United States eventually lowered transportation costs, increased the size and extent of 
markets, and spurred demand for resources for construction and operation of the railroad. 

To the south, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad had been the Baltimore merchants' answer to 
the question of "canal or railroad?" and the line pioneered many aspects of railroad 
development. Chartered in 1828, the B&O stands out in American history because of its very 
efficient self-promotion and also because the federal government effectively became a partner 
in much of the engineering of the railroad through the loan of a large number of West Point- 
trained engineers to survey and lay out the railroad's route. 

The railroads' demand for resources spanned a number of other industries. Early American 
railroads depended almost entirely upon imports of British iron rails. But with the passage 
of the tariff of 1842, American iron producers sought to enter the market for iron rails. Soon, 
some 15 iron rail mills began operation, but 13 collapsed in 1848, owing to foreign 
competition. British iron producers sold rails in the United States in exchange for railroad 
securities and bonds, thus attracting business from the railroads because the companies did 
not have to pay cash for the rails they purchased. U.S. iron manufacturers found themselves 
principally involved with rerolling worn British rails. Railroads consumed approximately 17% 
of the total increase in iron output in the United States in the 1840s, a relatively insignificant 

Most early iron rails were made in Britain rather than in the United States. Planners of the 
Allegheny Portage Railroad purchased both the iron strapping and the rolled iron "T" rails 
in Britain in spite of protests from Pennsylvania iron manufacturers. Indeed, British-made iron 
rails dominated American railroad construction, a fact that led to the passage of a $25 per ton 
tariff on bar iron (including rails) in 1842. 


///. A Transportation Revolution: Railroads and the Rise of an Industrial Order 

though the Tariff of 1842 provided an important incentive for American iron makers to 
increase capacity, their efforts met with stiff competition from the British iron industry. 
Perhaps as many as 20 rolling mills entered rail production in the United States after the tariff 
went mto effect. The estimated total annual capacity (for rails and plate) of iron rolling mills 
in the United States reached between 44,000 and 51,000 tons by 1846, but revision of the tariff 
again in that year and decline in British consumption of rails led to a vast increase in rail 
imports from Britain. In 1846, British rail imports totalled a mere 6,000 tons, but by 1850 that 


figure had skyrocketed to 142,000 tons. Under such pressure, many American rail mills 
could not compete and went out of business. Domestic production of rails fell short of 22,000 
tons in 1849. 

One of those competitive mills was the Great Western Iron Company, located at Brady's Bend 
on the Allegheny River in Armstrong County. Built in 1841, the mill soon began to roll edge 
rails and by 1846 was producing "T" rails. But in 1849, the mill failed. New owners restarted 
the mill as the Brady's Bend Iron Company, which continued to roll iron rails until 1873, 
when the mill could no longer compete with the newer technology of steel rail manufacture. 
But during its heyday, the Brady's Bend mill had rolled considerable quantities of iron rails, 
e.g., 7,533 tons in 1856 and single orders of 2,000 tons during the late Civil War. 

That the Brady's Bend rail mill survived at all is remarkable, given that after 1849 British 
imports continued to rise. By 1853, 290,930 tons of iron rails came from Britain according to 
official reports, but the American Iron and Steel Association reported that number as 320,352 
tons, when domestic production had risen to only 78,450 tons. Between 1849 and 1854, British 
rail imports constituted roughly 80% of the rails laid in the United States. Yet after 1854, the 
picture began to turn around. American makers added capacity while the British rail 
producers grew increasingly wary of taking American railroad securities as payment. 
Technological change also played a role in stemming the massive flow of British rails into the 
United States, and western Pennsylvania stands out as the leader in this process. 

118. Fishlow, American Railroads, 136. 

119. James M. Swank, Progressive Pennsylvania: A Record of the Remarkable Industrial Development of the Keystone State, 
(Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1908), 205-06. 

120. Fishlow, American Railroads, 137-43. 



In 1853 the Cambria Iron Company vv^as founded in Johnstow^n, Cambria County. Unlike most 
ironmaking enterprises, the Cambria w^orks v^as constructed as an integrated mill. It engaged 
in all aspects of ironmaking, from smelting to refining to rolling.^^^ Cambria's iron smelting 
operations relied upon both old and new technologies. On the one hand, it had four charcoal 
blast furnaces; but on the other, it also contained four coke-fired blast furnaces, whJch 
represented the w^ave of the future. The size of the coke-fired furnaces could be far larger than 
w^as possible with charcoal smelting, and the coke furnaces could draw upon the relatively 
abundant mineral resources of the Johnstown area. 

In 1854, Cambria superintendent John Fritz began a series of process innovations that 
dramatically improved productivity and the quality of iron railmaking. In 1856, he built a 
new type of rail rolling mill, a mill that became known as the three-high mill. Until Fritz's 
innovation, rails were rolled by passing hot metal though a pair of rolls. After the newh and 
roughly formed rail came out of the rolls, it was passed back over the set of rolls to its 
original starting point and was then put through the rolls again. This operation continued 
until a satisfactory rail was produced. But as Fritz came to realize, this process was not only 
slow, but it was also problematic in that the rail lost heat rapidly. Rerolling a rapidly cooling 
rail often produced cracks in the rail, ruining the whole piece. 

Fritz's three-high mill eliminated these problems. By adding a third roll on top of the original 
two, Fritz was able to roll rails in two directions — to pass the initially rolled rail back 
through the stand of rolls, thereby quickening the process and avoiding the problem of 
working metal that was too cold or having to reheat a rail to get it rolled correctly. Fritz 
designed the three-high mill and supervised the erection and start-up of the mill. By the end 
of July, the roll mill had been proven successful. Fritz wrote that the Cambria plant soon was 
producing 30,000 tons of rails a year "without a hitch or break of any kind, thus making the 
Cambria Iron Company a great success, and giving them a rail plant far in advance of any 
other plant in the world. "^^^ 

121. It should be noted, however, that the vertical integration of the Cambria Iron Works was typical of iron- 
rolling firms in the United States. An integrated ironworks included a blast furnace to produce pig iron and 
puddling furnaces to convert pig to wrought iron in addition to a rolling mill to roll the malleable iron into 
finished products. 

122. Quoted in Swank, Progressive Pennsylvania, 208. 


///. A Transportation Revolution: Railroads and the Rise of an Industrial Order 

The three-high mill, coupled with the other process reforms that Fritz made at Cambria, 
turned the works from an unprofitable venture into a successful enterprise, one in which 
important innovations would continue to be made. As Frank Jones, an ironmaster at Cambria 
later wrote, Cambria was "the cradle in which the great improvements which revolutionized 
the rail mills were rocked.' 

In this climate of innovation, William Kelly, a Pittsburgh-born resident of Eddyville, 
Kentucky, carried out in 1857 and 1858 a series of inconclusive experiments at Cambria trying 
to use air to remove carbon from pig iron, thus making it more malleable. Although not 
successful, these experiments spurred Kelly to continue to work on his process, which was 
eventually embodied in patents controlled by the Kelly Pneumatic Process Company, a 
company owned in part by Daniel Morrell, the manager of the Cambria works who had hired 
John Fritz. 

Cambria stands as one of the pioneers of the Bessemer process in the United States, the site 
of the sixth installation of a Bessemer plant. Cambria's works represented an improvement 
over the previous five plants. The Bessemer plant at Cambria not only symbolized the 
owners' continuing commitment to innovation in rail manufacture, it also served as "the 
training ground for the countless young men who entered the iron industry in America." 

By 1860, rails constituted 40% of all rolled iron produced in the United States, and rail mills 
constituted the largest and most advanced of the iron mills in the U.S. Of the six integrated 
iron works in this country that year, five produced rails. Between 1856 and 1860, the railroad 
consumed 21% of U.S. pig iron. After the introduction of the Bessemer process, the railroad's 
influence on market grew more dramatically. Between 1867 and 1891, rails consumed more 
than half of all Bessemer steel production in each year, and in the period between 1867 and 
1880, the average was in excess of 80%, all Vv'hile iron and steel output in the United States 
was rising dramatically. 

123. Quoted in Elting Morison, From Know-How to Nowhere (New York: Basic Books, 1974), 81. 

124. McCollough, Alexander Holley and the Makers of Steel, 229. 



Antebellum railroads provided a powerful demand for machinery and machine-building skills 
and equipment. In the 1840s, 68 machine shops, manufacturing machinery for steamboats, 
employed about 4,800 v^^orkers, but the same year, locomotive manufacturers alone had 
almost 4,200 workers on their payrolls. Yet in very few instances did locomotive 
manufacturers begin de novo. Most of them had been engaged in some type of machinery 
manufacture (marine engines, textile machinery, etc.) before entering the locomotive business. 
Nevertheless, railroad demands led to rapid growth of the machine-building sector in the 
United States. 

Railroads also became large-scale consumers of coal. Although early locomotives burned 
wood, railroads eventually turned to coal-burning locomotives once the problems with 
burning coal were solved. In the antebellum period, the railroad played little role as a direct 
consumer of coal as fuel. In the post-Civil War decades, however, the railroad became a major 
consumer (and, of course, hauler) of coal. Between 1880 and 1890, the railroad burned 20% 
of total coal consumed in the U.S. 

The railroads played a major role in changing American agriculture, particularly in the 
direction of trade flows. For example, "The shift [of agricultural goods] away from New 
Orleans between 1849 and 1860 is exactly matched by the increased flow to Philadelphia and 
Baltimore, while New York's share remains constant."^^^ Indeed, the railroad's greatest 
impact on the American economy in the antebellum period was probably in the area of 
agriculture rather than industry. 

Even before the Civil War, the railroad provided the rapidly expanding grain belt of the 
United States more efficient access to Eastern markets than canals or rivers. Thus occurred 
a vast redistribution of American agriculture, away from Eastern agricultural areas to more 
productive areas of the old Northwest and the new Midwest. As Alfred D. Chandler pointed 
out, not only was there a change in the flow of midwestem agricultural products from the 
port of New Orleans, there was also a change in the flow of southern products from that port: 
"In 1857 the Pennsylvania carried from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia 733,651 pounds of cotton; 

125. Albert Fishlow, American Railroads and the Transformation of the Antebellum Economy (Cambridge: Harvard 
University Press, 1965), 291. 


///. A Transportation Revolution: Railroads and the Rise of an Industrial Order 

in 1859 it took 17,897,569 pounds; and in 1860, 28,673,305. This last amount was more cotton 
than all the mills of Lowell consumed in 1845, one of the city's most prosperous years."^^^ 

As part of this redistribution of American agricultural products, food processing industries 
grew up in the new agricultural areas. Thus the Midwest became the paramount region for 
meat packing, flour milling, and distilling. Clearly, the railroad was a significant player in the 
antebellum economy, although not "indispensable", at least in the 1850s. The American 
economy would have grown during this time in any case, although at a somewhat lower 

Alfred D. Chandler's work stands out as important interpretive work about the significance 
of the railroad in American history. In 1965 Chandler published an article, "The Railroads: 
Pioneers in Modem Corporate Management," which argued that the railroads were the 
nation's first "big business" and had first developed methods of modem management that 
were critical to the smooth functioning of not only the railroads but of American capitalism. 
The mere operation of a trunk-line railroad (with its enormous investment in track and 
equipment; its system of tracks, trains, and employees; its need for safety, regularity, 
efficiency, and maintenance; and its enormous number of financial transactions) demanded 
that railroad managers develop systems of management and control to govern the complex 
system and those employees who were part of it. 

At a time when large integrated textile companies (which were perhaps the most 
technologically advanced manufacturers in the United States) typically bore business expenses 
well under $500,000, the nation's new trunk lines spent 4 to 10 times as much. For example, 
in 1855, the Erie's operating budget approached $3 million, while the Pennsylvania spent well 
over $2 million. The scale differences in these respective operating budgets mirrored the 
differences in the capital invested in railroads and large-scale manufacturing companies in 
the late 1840s and the 1850s. 

126. Alfred D. Chandler Jr., "Review of American Railroads and the Transformation of the Ante-Bellum Economy," 

journal of Economic History 29 (1969): 566. 

127. Ibid., 305 



The railroads, even in their earliest days, employed large numbers of u^orkers — far more 
than even the largest manufacturing enterprises of the day. For example, in the 1850s, one of 
the largest textile mills in the United States employed about 800 workers; at mid-decade, the 
Erie, at that time larger than its archival the Pennsylvania, employed over 4,000 workers. 
Three decades later, the Pennsylvania would command a workforce of almost 50,000 

According to Chandler, three men trained as civil engineers who would later become leaders 
of railroads hammered out the basic methods of modem management: Daniel McCallum of 
the Erie Railroad, Benjamin Latrobe of the Baltimore & Ohio, and J. Edgar Thomson of the 
Pennsylvania Railroad. These pioneering managers developed organization charts and job 
definitions that specified line and staff functions. Building on the work of McCallum and 
others, Thomson divided the sprawling Pennsylvania into several operating divisions and 
gave their superintendents line responsibility for the daily operations of their respective 
divisions. These division superintendents reported to the railroad's general superintendent, 
who in turn reported to the president of the railroad. 

Thomson also established a staff departmental structure that paralleled the functional 
activities of the divisions, such as accounting, purchasing, machinery, maintenance of way, 
etc. The principals of the staff departments were responsible for the establishment and 
monitoring of standards in their respective departments. As Chandler wrote, "This line-and- 
staff concept, by which the managers on the line of authority were responsible for ordering 
men involved with the basic function of the enterprise, and other function managers (the staff 
executives) were responsible for setting standards, was first enunciated in American business 
by the Pennsylvania Railroad in December 1857."^^^ 

The system of management at the Pennsylvania was widely emulated by other railroads in 
the United States after 1860 and became critical to the management of diversified 
manufacturing firms in the 20th century. Thus, the railroads were not only the nation's first 
big businesses, but they were also vastly influential in shaping the conduct of the nation's 

128. Alfred D. Chandler Jr., The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business, (Cambridge: Harvard 
University Press, 1977), 106. 


///. A Transportation Revolution: Railroads and the Rise of an Industrial Order 

The end of the Civil War witnessed explosive growth in America's industrial infrastructure. 
The war had disrupted the economies of both the Union and the Confederacy, but its 
destructive effects had been limited, with few exceptions, to the southern states. The economic 
growth of the northern states may have stagnated, but certain sectors continued to grow, and 
in fact received additional stimulus from the demands of the war effort. The Pennsylvania 
Railroad, on the whole, found that the war could work to its advantage. While the B&O's 
operations suffered frequent and serious disruption, due to its proximity to the battle lines, 
the Pennsylvania flourished by comparison, as a vital carrier of troops and supplies for Union 

The war's end left the PRR intact and poised to expand its influence. Both the Pennsylvania 
and its rival, the B&O, had spent millions of dollars laying track and building locomotives 
before the end of the Civil War. They did this in an era when million-dollar corporations were 
almost unheard of. The Pennsylvania's balance sheet for 1865 showed that capital outlays for 
road improvements had topped $23.2 million. Increasing railroad competition in western 
Pennsylvania sparked frenzied building campaigns, particularly in the coal mining country 
in the late 1870s and 1880s. 

Despite its position on the Ohio at Wheeling, the B&O was effectively shut out from western 
Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania denied the railroad charter rights in 1846 and forced the B&O 
into the alternate Wheeling route. Until its 1868 lease of the Pittsburgh & Connellsville 
connected the whole length of its track, the B&O stood anxiously at the doorstep of a 
lucrative coal region. The area had already been recognized as an abundant source of 
metallurgical coal. With demand for iron products at record levels in the wake of the Civil 
War, some railroad companies, including the B&O, were clamoring to get a piece of the coal 
trade. Investors in mining companies were also marshalling their resources to expand mines 
in the Fayette County area and provide access to transportation. 

The B&O also wished to gain access to the Pittsburgh manufacturing trade, and a more direct 
right of way to the Great Lakes area. Pittsburgh wanted a second outlet to the Atlantic 
seaboard in order competitive shipping rates. The PRR for its part fought to maintain its 
control of the Pittsburgh market and its power to fix rates. This reflected the patterns of 



trading interests and competition that had prevailed in the region since the end of the 18th 

The Pennsylvania drove the South West Pennsylvania Railroad and the Brownsville Railroad 
deep into the coal regions of Fayette County by 1875. Four years later the Pittsburgh & Lake 
Erie (a NYC-financed venture) entered the area, signifying an attempt by outside interests to 
increase the competition for the area's coal and bringing with it the clout of a trunk line 
competitor to the PRR and the B&O (see the Major Railroads in Western Pennsylvania ca. 
1869-1930 map). 

I am sure that any competent judge would be surprised how little I ever risked. . . . 
When I did big things some large corporation [i.e., the Pennsylvania Railroad] was 
behind me and [was] the responsible party. ^^'^ 

Railroads helped shape the economic and industrial development of Western Pennsylvania 
through its enormous consumption of iron and steel for rails and railroad equipment. The 
manufacture of iron and steel for the railroad drew on regional resources, especially coal, in 
an unprecedented manner and led to significant growth and innovation during the last third 
of the 19th century, the height of railroad construction in the United States. 

The substitution of steel for iron rails represents one of the most significant innovations in the 
history of railroading, and it had vast repercussions for western Pennsylvania. Iron rails 
limited the weight and number of trains travelling over a given track. By the early 1860s, the 
Pennsylvania Railroad was having to replace rails in some of its sections every six months. 
Worn rails had to be replaced either with new rails or with re-rolled rails. In 1857 more than 
56,000 gross tons were rerolled; six years later, that number had risen to close to 150,000 gross 

Steel rails vastly outperformed iron rails. Early tests in England indicated that steel rails lasted 
some eleven times longer than iron rails. Also, steel rails could bear greater loads than could 
iron rails. But they cost a great deal more, especially when Bessemer steelmaking capacity 
was small in both England and the United States. But with increased Bessemer steel capacity. 

129. Andrew Carnegie, quoted in Harold Livesay, Andrew Carnegie and the Rise of Big Business, (Boston: Little, 
Brown and Co. 1975), 29-42. 













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///. A Transportation Revolution: Railroads and the Rise of an Industrial Order 

the cost-price performance characteristics of steel rails rapidly improved compared to those 
for iron rails. According to Poor's Manual of the Railroads of the United States, in 1880, almost 
30% of the 116,000 miles of rails in the U.S. were made of steel. By 1907, 97% off the nation's 
325,000 miles of rails were steel.^^^ 

Led by its president, J. Edgar Thomson, the Pennsylvania Railroad pioneered in the 
substitution of steel for iron rails and led the entire industry in the United States in testing, 
adopting, and promoting the manufacture of steel rails. Alarmed by the rates of wear on the 
Pennsylvania's mainline tracks, Thomson journeyed to Britain in 1862 to study the 
manufacture and use of steel rails. Because the British reported excellent results with steel 
rails, Thomson bought several hundred tons of the new rails and ordered them installed in 
locations where the Pennsylvania was experiencing heavy wearing of iron rails. Seeking 
additional data on rail performance, the railroad also purchased and laid a small amount of 
iron rails whose wearing surfaces were steel. These initial trials of alternatives to iron rails 
were conducted in 1864. A year later, the Pennsylvania bought and laid 100 additional tons 
of crucible steel rails and also 270 tons of rails rolled from Bessemer steel. 

By 1866, Thomson and his technical staff had concluded that steel rails overwhelmingly 
surpassed iron. Indeed, he argued that the new material wore at one-eighth the rate of iron 
but cost only twice the price of the inferior material. Steel-surfaced iron rails, the 
Pennsylvania's trials indicated, offered three times the wear of solid iron at only a 25% 

Although the steel-surfaced iron rails were a good alternative to solid iron, the performance 
of the all-steel rail was superior. As Thomson informed his company's stockholders, "The 
general introduction of steel rails is now wholly a commercial question, in which the cost of 
the increased capital required for their purchase becomes the chief impediment to their 
general adoption."^''^ The Pennsylvania's plan was to replace iron with steel rails on its 

130. Swank, Progressive Pennsylvania, 210. 

131. Pennsylvania Railroad Annual Report, 1866, quoted in Steven W. Usselman, "Running the Machine: The 
Management of Technological Innovation on American Railroads, 1860-1910" (Ph.D. diss.. University of Delav^are, 




heavily trafficked mainline as fast as possible and to rely upon reroUed iron rails to replace 
w^om out or broken iron rails on spur and branches. 

Thomson and the Pennsylvania then moved aggressively to promote the domestic 
manufacture of steel rails. In 1864 Thomson had written that the Pennsylvania Railroad w^ould 
build its own steel rail plant if that was what was required to get good and affordable steel 
rails. Roughly a year later, Thomson became one of the founders of the Pennsylvania Steel 
Company, a Bessemer steel rail mill planned to have an annual capacity of 10,000 tons located 
along the Pennsylvania Railroad lines hear Harrisburg. The Pennsylvania Railroad invested 
$600,000 in the plant — roughly one-third of its total cost. 

For a brief period, steel ingots made at the new plant were shipped to the Cambria Iron 
Works in Johnstown to be rolled into rails, owing to delays in getting the rolling mill of the 
Harrisburg plant built. The experience with rolling the new and tougher material at Cambria 
yielded significant innovation in rolling mill design. 

When it began operations in May 1868, the Pennsylvania Steel Company's rail mill was the 
largest in the United States and included four sets of three-high rolls, the first of which broke 
down ingots into 10-inch blooms, the second formed rough rail shapes, and the third of which 
finished the rail. The fourth set of rolls was used for alternative forming alternative rail 
patterns. By 1869, the Harrisburg plant was turning out more than 7,000 tons of steel rails. 

Cambria's brief experience with rolling steel rails for the Pennsylvania Steel Company 
encouraged the owners of the Cambria Iron Works to enter the production of steel rails. The 
manufacture of steel rails constituted a major engine of growth and change in western 
Pennsylvania and stemmed directly from the actions and intentions of the Pennsylvania 
Railroad. Cambria's steel plant made its first blow on July 10, 1871, and incorporated process 
innovations made by both Alexander Holley and John and George Fritz. By 1876 the total 
output of the Cambria works reached almost 93,000 tons — slightly less than 43,000 tons of 
iron rails and 50,000 tons of steel rails — a record output for any iron and steel plant in the 
United States. Soon, however, the performance of the Cambria Bessemer steel rail plant would 
be upstaged by Andrew Carnegie's new steel mill at Braddock's Field, a few miles east of 


///. A Transportation Revolution: Railroads and the Rise of an Industrial Order 

The Pennsylvania Railroad played as great a role in Andrew Carnegie's rise to fame and 
fortune as Carnegie's own driving ambition and shrewd business acumen. A Scottish 
immigrant, Carnegie had been a laborer in a Pittsburgh textile mill and then a messenger for 
a telegraph company. In the latter job he worked his way up to become a full-time telegraph 
operator and developed other marketable skills though his nighttime studies of accounting. 
In 1852, he accepted a job offer from Tom Scott, superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad's 
western division, as secretary and personal telegrapher. Under Scott's tutelage Carnegie 
learned about the world of business and opportunities that lay within it through hands-on 
management of the Pennsylvania Railroad. 

Three years later, Scott was promoted by company president J. Edgar Thomson to the position 
of general superintendent, and at Scott's request, Carnegie accompanied him to the 
Pennsylvania's offices in Altoona from which he would have a broad view of the railroad's 
operations and would play an important role in decisions about operations, rates, and 
investment. When Scott became vice president of the Pennsylvania in 1859, he named 
Carnegie superintendent of the line's western division, a position that under Thomson's 
organizational plan gave Carnegie enormous autonomy over all the operations in the division 
and he flourished in this position. In the period from 1859 to 1865, the Pennsylvania 
expanded dramatically. Traffic grew by 400 percent while the trackage more than doubled. 
Carnegie managed his responsibilities aggressively yet prudently, and in 1865 Thomson 
offered him the position as general superintendent of the entire line. But Carnegie demurred. 
He had decided to become a capitalist. 

Carnegie had witnessed Scott's and Thomson's investments in manufacturing and other 
enterprises — most of them connected to the railroad and its services — and, at Scott's 
urging, he had actually become an investor in several of the ventures in which Scott had 
taken a large role. By 1863 his investments were generating income that approached $50,000 
per year and were growing. 

Between 1865 and 1872, Carnegie rode the crest of the wave of expansion that gripped the 
United States after the Civil War. During these years, "He became a masterful speculator, 
manipulating stock in Western Union and Union Pacific, jousting with entrepreneurs Jay 
Gould and George Pullman. Carnegie began promoting stocks and bonds, selling $30 million 



in Europe in five years. Then he abruptly abandoned his career as speculator and 
financier. "^■^^ Instead, he became the dominant manufacturer of steel in the United States. 
The railroad — especially steel rails for the railroad — served as the vehicle for his meteoric 
rise as an industrialist. 

During the 1860s, Carnegie had dabbled in the manufacture of iron. He and several associates 
entered several areas of iron manufacture, including pig iron production, iron refining and 
fabrication, bridge member design and construction, and even iron rail manufacture. In 1872 
he toured several large Bessemer steelworks in Sheffield and Birmingham, England. These 
tours and his conversations with plant managers gave Carnegie an important insight: the 
success of the Bessemer process was dependent not only on having the right ore, but also on 
having a large-scale plant adjacent to transportation lines for raw materials and finished 
products. Pittsburgh offered significant advantages over most of the other Bessemer rail 
plants in transportation costs for the newly developed iron ore fields of the Lake Superior 
district. The J. Edgar Thomson Works at Braddock's Field would be the physical manifestation 
of that insight. 

The plant's property abutted both the mainline of the Pennsylvania Railroad and the 
Baltimore & Ohio Railroad's line into Pittsburgh. This position provided Carnegie with 
enormous leverage over the two competitive railroads. Carnegie used this position to force 
the president of the B&O to make steel purchases from the J. Edgar Thomson Works if he 
hoped to do any business with the company. The plant's location on the Monongahela River 
provided excellent access to coal and coke from the Connellsville region and downstream 
transportation of finished products. Pittsburgh's transportation systems also provided an 
efficient linkage with the ore fields of the Lake Superior district. 

At the J. Edgar Thomson Works, two 5-ton Bessemer vessels would convert the iron to steel. 
In addition, the plant would have two 5-ton Siemens open hearth furnaces. The steel ingots 
cast from the molten steel from these furnaces would be rolled into rails. Design and 
construction of the 30,000 ton-per-year plant took three years. Plant startup occurred on 
August 22, 1875, some two weeks after Carnegie had secured its first order for 2,000 tons of 

132. Livesay, Andrezv Carnegie and the Rise of Big Business, 61. 

///. A Transportation Revolution: Railroads and the Rise of an Industrial Order 

steel rails, notably from the Pennsylvania Railroad. From that point forward, the plant and 
its workers began their endless campaign of "hard driving" — running the plant steadily at 
full capacity. Rail costs were below other Bessemer plants and provided Carnegie with the 
leverage to build an empire of steel production. 

In 1906, total production of Bessemer steel rails in the United States was 3,791,459 tons. The 
J. Edgar Thomson Works alone produced nearly 827,000 tons of that output, almost 22 
percent. A total of 1,105,941 tons of steel rails were produced that year in western 
Pennsylvania, most of the balance of which was manufactured at the Cambria Steel Company 
in Johnstown. The remarkable cost reductions achieved at the J. Edgar Thomson Works and 
Carnegie's hard-driving, aggressive policies allowed him to dominate steel rail production in 
the United States and to expand his business rapidly. 

The intense postbellum competition between the major railroads in western Pennsylvania that 
accelerated the rapid development of the steel industry began in a period of remarkable 
industrial expansion. The nation's recovery witnessed tremendous increases in productivity. 
Railroads like the Pennsylvania aggressively expanded their sphere of operations, creating 
national markets and generating increased production in related industries. The nation's cities, 
particularly those in the more industrialized Northeast and upper Midwest, grew at 
phenomenal rates. The oil industry continued the boom of the antebellum years. Glassmaking, 
papermaking, meatpacking, and milling all experienced tremendous growth in the late 1860s 
and early 1870s. 

However, this dynamic economic process was vulnerable to market downturns, investment 
capital shortages, overproduction, and political scandal. In 1873, contraction of the money 
supply, overextension of rail mileage, a financial panic in Vienna, the political scandals of the 
Grant administration, and the collapse of an American investment-banking firm. Jay Cooke 
and Company, triggered the Panic of 1873. This six-year depression lasted longer and was 
more intense than any that America had yet suffered.^^'' Railroad construction slowed, 
unemployment approached the 3 million mark, and hundreds of businesses failed. The panic 

133. Tindall, America. A Narrative History, 730. 



created enormous hardship for millions and bred conditions that fostered social unrest, 
especially in the cities. 

The overextended railroads found themselves competing for revenues in shrinking markets. 
The Pennsylvania and others engaged in rate wars, cutting fares on passenger and freight 
traffic.^"^'^ Thomas A. Scott, the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, claimed that, 
"During the first six months of 1877, not a farthing was made on through competitive freight 
by any line.' If so, this signalled a recent reversal in Pennsylvania's fortunes. The year 
before, the railroad had reported net profits of $22 million. ^"^^ In response to the depression, 
eastern railroads, including the PRR and the B&O, agreed on new rates to take effect on July 
1, 1877. In addition, they also ordered a 10% reduction in wages. 

Railworkers had already taken a wage cut in 1873. They argued that further cuts would not 
allow them to support themselves or their families. "It's a question of bread or blood." 
In retaliation, brakemen and firemen of the Baltimore & Ohio walked off the job and 
effectively blockaded the railroad's freight lines.^^^ West Virginia militiamen sent to quell 
the disturbances openly fraternized with strikers. One officer explained that "Many of us have 
reason to know what long hours and low pay mean and any movement that aims at one or 
the other will have our sympathy and support. We may be militiamen, but we are workmen 

134. In a corporate history of the Pennsylvania, Edwin P. Alexander wrote of the 1873 Panic that "the railroads, 
largest business generally in the country, suffered most." This perspective in all likelihood reflects the attitude of 
the railroad at the time. The suffering of railworkers drawing below subsistence-level wages was for some railroad 
executives incidental, at best. Edwin P. Alexander, The Penns]/lvania Railroad. A Pictorial History (New York: W.W. 
Norton and Company, Inc. 1947), 223. 

135. Ibid., 223. 

136. Philip S. Klein and Ari Hoogenboom, A History of Pennsylvania (University Park and London: The 
Pennsylvania State University Press, 1980), 296. 

137. Ibid., 326. 

138. Strikers participating in the Great Strike of 1877 generally allowed passenger and freight trains to operate. 
They targeted freight trains, the railroads' most significant revenue source. 

139. Nell Irvin Painter, Standing at Armageddon. The United States, 1877-2919, (New York: W.W. Norton and 
Company. 1987), 15. 


///. A Transportation Revolution: Railroads and the Rise of an Industrial Order 

West Virginia's governor then requested, and received, federal troops from President 
Rutherford B. Hayes. This marked the first time since Andrew Jackson's presidency that 
federal forces had been used to break a strike. These troops succeeded in freeing some trains 
in Martinsburg, West Virginia, but by then violence had erupted in Baltimore. Workers, many 
of v/hom were actually nonstrikers, flooded the city's streets, set fires, and fought open battles 
with Maryland troops. Before calm descended, 10 people had died, and 23 were injured when 
militia troops fired into a mob. By the end of the chaos in Baltimore, 500 federal troops, 
including Marines, were stationed in the city. 

The strike's most spectacular conflict occurred in Pittsburgh, where workers launched an 
assault on the Pennsylvania Railroad. Pittsburgh "was a workingmen's town in which all 
classes were united in hatred of the Pennsylvania Railroad. "^^^ The railroad's monopoly 
over freight carriage and artificially high rates, its staunch resistance to the B&O receiving a 
right-of-way into the city, and its enormous influence in the state legislature made it a symbol 
of the oppressive power of industrial capitalism. When the PRR ordered double-engine trains 
for eastbound freights, it put dozens of brakemen and conductors out of work, adding further 
injury to the pay cut. Trainsmen Union called a meeting and agreed to a strike for Friday, 
July 20, 1877 (see figures 8-11). 

Freight service was stopped on Friday. Local militia called out to disperse the strikers enjoyed 
the same success that the West Virginia militia had in Martinsburg. They discovered an 
almost instant fellowship with the strikers and did nothing. The vice president of the PRR, 
Alexander Cassatt, requested militia troops from Philadelphia. These troops arrived on 
Saturday, Catling guns in tow. When confronted with a hostile mob that threw stones and 
fired upon them, the Philadelphia militia opened fire on the crowds, killing 20 and wounding 
many more. 

The outnumbered militia retreated to a Pennsylvania Railroad roundhouse, where enraged 
workers and hangers-on surrounded them. Strikers set coal and oil cars ablaze and sent them 
crashing into the roundhouse. The strikers finally flushed the troops from the roundhouse and 

140. Klein and Hoogenboom. A History of Pennsylvania, 326. 


Figure 8: The Aftermath of the Great Strike of 1877, Pittsburgh. The level of 
destruction raised fears of a workers' revolution. Looking east from 25th Street. Courtesy of 
the Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, PA. 

Figure 9: After the Great Strike of 1877. Looking west from 29th Street, Pittsburgh. 

Courtesy of the Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, PA. 


Figure 10: Remains of the Lower Engine House, 26th Street, Pittsburgh. Courtesy of 
the Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, PA. 

Figure ll: Spectators Taking in the Sights in the Wake of the Strike. Pittsburgh. 
Courtesy of the Railroaders Memorial Museum, Altoona, PA. 



drove them in headlong retreat, first to the arsenal, and then out of the city altogether, to the 
Allegheny County Workhouse, 12 miles away. 

With the rout of the militia troops, many of the strikers, sympathizers, and violent 
opportunists exploded in a full-scale riot, focusing their destructive energies on the property 
of the Pennsylvania Railroad. ^'*^ Before the arrival of federal forces on Monday, July 23, 
104 locomotives, 2,152 railcars, the roundhouse, the depot, and other PRR property had been 
obliterated. United States troops marched into a fire-blackened, battle-scarred city. 

Sympathetic strikes spread throughout the country, from Cumberland, Maryland, to Chicago 
and San Francisco. Strikes paralyzed freight traffic on rail lines throughout the Northeast and 
Midwest. Twenty thousand rallied at a Workingmen's party demonstration in Chicago to hear 
speeches by the anarchist Albert Parsons. Street fighting in Chicago between police and 
workers killed 40 to 50 people. In St. Louis, workers took over the city in a week-long general 
strike. ". . . the city's workers took pride, briefly, in having set up the nation's only 'genuine 
Commune.'"^^^ Federal troops rushed from city to city to quell disturbances that ultimately 
left 100 dead and $10 million in railroad property in ruins. 

For millions of Americans, the Great Strike revealed labor's dangerous potential as a 
disruptive, potentially revolutionary force. The strikers' violent and destructive attacks on 
railroad property struck a blow at what many considered the very heart of the American way 
of life: the sanctity of private property. The notion of organized labor itself seemed to pose 
a threat to inalienable rights of property. Industrialists and many in the middle class 
considered workers' demands on wages, hours, and working conditions to be blatant 
interference with a man's right to dispose of his property as he saw fit. The incredible 
upheaval of the strike and riots raised the specter of the class violence that had racked Europe 
for decades. The revolutions of 1830, 1848, and 1870 prologued the bloody massacres that 
occurred during the suppression of the Paris Commune in 1871. The prospect of a communist 
revolution sent shock waves through a nation still recovering from the massive bloodletting 

141. The events of the Pittsburgh chapter of the 1877 strike bear more than a passing similarity to the Los Angeles 
riots of 1992, in this selective destruction of property. 

142. Painter, Standing at Armageddon, 18. 

///. A Transportation Revolution: Railroads and the Rise of an Industrial Order 

of the Civil War. Americans acted with alacrity to update state militias as a modem National 
Guard and to construct massive armories in cities throughout the United States. 

For VN'orkers, the strike of 1877 also taught some profound lessons. They realized the 
enormous power of the forces arrayed against them, and learned at great cost that they could 
not stand against the combined strength of capital and the state. They discovered that they 
had no enforceable claim on any significant share in the productive process of which they 
were an essential part. The same federal government that recently had ordered troops to 
uphold the civil rights of blacks in the South now sent soldiers against its citizens in defense 
of property and capital. Labor now knew that it could not look to the federal government for 
help in their continued struggle with industrial capital. On the contrary, workers swallowed 
the bitter realization that it was openly hostile to their cause. The Great Strike, in which 
western Pennsylvania figured so prominently, helped set the tone for industry-labor relations 
for the next half-century. 

To call Altoona the cranium of the Permsylvania Railroad would be an incorrect simile. 
. . . Perhaps Altoona might more properly be regarded as the stomach of the 
Pennsylvania Railroad. . . . Some one has said 'that brains are all very well in their place, 
but a good reliable set of bowels is as of much importance as brains . . . the vigor and 
force which are the motive power in great human affairs depend on the digestive organs. 
Altoona fulfills an analogous function.^ 

Railroad development had an enormous impact on the economic and labor history of western 
Pennsylvania, but it also significantly shaped the region's social and communal evolution. The 
city of Altoona was founded as a railroad communit}-', and its growth, development, and 
decline were inextricable linked to the fortunes and failings of the Pennsylvania Railroad. 
Altoona offers the region's most dramatic example of transportation technology's ability to 
affect, even create, a community's history, identity, and heritage. 

Altoona owes its existence to the PRR's efforts to surmount the Allegheny Ridge with a 
reliable, all-weather rail route to bypass the Allegheny Portage. The construction of the 

143. This curious anatomical reference first appeared in an 1880 magazine article and was reprinted in the 
Pennsylvania Railroad's "Engineer of Tests Report to the Interstate Commerce Commission" (1914). The author 
perhaps was attempting to demonstrate that a railroad, like an army, travels on its stomach, although the 
comparison to the human digestive tract was not particularly flattering to the city of Altoona. At any rate, the 
railroad liked the analogy well enough to reprint it. 



Horseshoe Curve and the Gallitzin Tunnel solved the problem of the ridge. The railroad now^ 
required an operational center at the base of the Alleghenies to service the additional motive 
power required to pull trains up the grades leading to the Curve. HoUidaysburg, the terminus 
of the portage, was too far from Horseshoe Curve. The railroad chose a new location, 
purchasing land in 1849 near the base of the Allegheny Front. In 1850, the railroad built a 
half-round car erecting shop, locomotive erecting shop with a foundry, machine shop, 
woodworking shop, and paint shop.^^ 

The Horseshoe Curve and the construction of the Gallitzin Tunnel in 1854 ensured the 
viability of the Pennsylvania Railroad as a major carrier of freight and passengers between 
the East Coast and the Ohio Valley. As the PRR prospered, so did the new town of Altoona. 
By 1854, its population had increased to 2,000 and it was incorporated as a borough. By 1868, 
Altoona, riding the crest of the railroad's wartime boom, had grown significantly. Its 
population had increased to 10,000 in less than 15 years. The railroad in 1869 added the 
Altoona car shops and the Altoona machine shops to its existing facilities. This new 
construction cemented Altoona's vital position in the Pennsylvania Railroad's network. By 
1870, the Altoona shops employed hundreds of workers in a number of tasks including 
locomotive and railcar construction and repair, metals production, and blacksmithing (see 
figures 12 and 13 at the end of this chapter). 

The Altoona works illustrate the larger production strategy that the PRR management 
adopted in the early 1870s. Railroad officials established as a goal the "standardization of all 
cars, engines, and other machinery used on the railway.' The company could realize this 
objective by manufacturing its own equipment. The Pennsylvania manufactured the majority 
of its own locomotives, rolling stock, and supplies. The material that it did not produce was 
manufactured according to the PRR's rigid standards. The railroad built and maintained its 
own stations and rail lines. It did not own coal mines outright, but its major share holdings 
of coal mines assured it some power to determine fuel prices. Through its price fixing 

144. Robert L. Emerson, Allegheny Passage. An Illustrated History of Blair County (Woodland Hills, CA: Windsor 
Publications, 1984), 34. 

145. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, A Special History Study, Pennsylvania Railroad Shops 
and \Norks, Altoona, PA, by John C. Paige, (Denver Service Center, 1989), 15. 


///. A Transportation Revolution: Railroads and the Rise of an Industrial Order 

agreement with the Cambria Iron Company and the Carnegie Steel Company, the railroad 
could exert significant control over rail costs. 

The Pennsylvania Railroad was practically the fixer of the price of rails for a long 
period. The Perm. RR divided its tonnage between the 3 mills on its main line of 
road . . . the Perm. (Steel) works, the Cambria Works at Johnstown, and the J. Edgar 
Thomson works. For a long period rails were not purchased by other roads until the 
Perm. RR led off its order and after it placed its order the other roads would come 

The vast facilities of the Altoona works provided the final vital production component that 
allowed the Pennsylvania to achieve, to a remarkable degree, the vertical integration of 
mechanisms and functions of a railroad operation. 

Throughout much of its existence, the Pennsylvania Railroad's locomotive building facility 
and shops in Altoona were the cutting edge of locomotive design in the United States. This 
was particularly true in the last three decades of the 19th century,and the first decade of the 
twentieth century. In 1874 the PRR laid plans for a new locomotive production facility near 
the site of its existing Altoona Machine Shops. In developing the new site, PRR engineers 
decided to flip the orientation of the locomotive assembly line on its axis and stretch it out 
for almost 1/4 mile. The result was a three-track system of rails laid from one end of the 
facility to the other, wherein a new locomotive emerged from the foundry to be formed and 
fitted in the boiler shop and blacksmith shop, then passing through the machine shop and 
into the erecting shop where workers attached the wheel assemblies, drivers firebox, and 
boilers. The longitudinal design was a revolutionary transformation from the standard 
transverse erecting bays that the PRR had previously employed. The Altoona shops also 
became legendary for their testing of locomotives, particularly for the installation of a 
dynamometer in 1904. This allowed locomotives to run in place while engineers measured 
their tractive power, and fuel and water consumption. Other locomotive manufacturers used 
this facility to stress test their products (see figures 14 and 15 at the end of this chapter). 

The locomotive test facility was only the most spectacular example of the Pennsylvania 
Railroad's unstinted commitment to product and operational standardization. The PRR 

146. Elting E. Morison, Men, Machines, and Modern Times (Cambridge: The M.I.T. Press, 1966), quoted in National 
Park Service, Historic Resource Study. Cambria Iron Company by Sharon Brown (Denver Service Center, 1989), 79. 



declared itself the "Standard Railroad of the World," and it backed up this claim with 
painstaking efforts to eliminate as many variables in railroad construction and operations as 
possible. The Department of Physical Tests, established in Altoona in 1874, preceded the 
locomotive test facility. The railroad added a chemical laboratory to the test department the 
following year and hired Dr. Charles Benjamin Dudley to head the first internal industrial 
chemical laboratory in the railroad industry. 

Dudley began with work on the animal fat-based lubricants used on the railroad, discovering 
that their decomposition produced acids that corroded cylinders. Four years later, Dudley's 
research on steel rails proved that a reduction of carbon content yielded a softer rail of 
superior durability. The department expanded its scope to test virtually every product that 
the railroad manufactured or used. It tested the metal used in casting car wheels and axles 
and in steel car springs. It checked the relatives values of different coal grades, it examined 
paints, varnishes, and lubricants. The test department helped develop a less abrasive soap for 
washing passenger cars. In 1889, the department added a Division of Bacteriological 
Chemistry, which monitored the railroad's drinking water supply. It also conducted medical 
tests for company doctors and it devised methods for reducing the mineral content of boiler 

The test facility at Altoona ultimately developed a comprehensive system of standard 
specifications for all classes of materials and supplies. Other railroads that did not have their 
own test facilities adopted the standards of the Pennsylvania Railroad. "The use of such 
specifications for quality control became a standard practice throughout industry, and Dudley 
is generally given credit for its introduction."^"*^ Both the physical and chemical laboratories 
worked closely with the railroad's purchasing department to establish quality control. 
"However, they soon became involved in what is generally termed 'applied' research, leading 
to improved designs." 

147. Christopher T. Baer, "A Guide to the History and Records of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company" (The 
Hagley Museum and Library, unpublished finding aid), 1. 

148. Ibid. 

///. A Transportation Revolution: Railroads and the Rise of an Industrial Order 

In a curious way, the railroad's relentless pursuit of excellence in standards washed over onto 
the city of Altoona itself. Although not a model company town in the strict sense, as was 
Windber, the Berwind-White Coal Company's town in Cambria County, the city clearly bore 
the stamp of the Pennsylvania Railroad." . . . (Pennsylvania Railroad) officials were very much 
aware that the town must have a cultural and social life in order to transcend the simple 
camp atmosphere of the 1850's."^'*^ The PRR "sponsored bands, choral societies, sporting 
events, volunteer fire companies, a library, and a hospital."^^° It built a cricket field, golf 
course, tennis courts, and sports fields. It organized baseball, basketball and football teams 
from among its workers. The PRR in a very real sense dictated the rhythms of life itself. 

Since time was very important . . . the 'Company' did something to furnish 
good standard time to all its dependents. This was done by means of whistles 
or horns. A six O'Clock whistle wakened the workers of the community. Ten 
till seven gave them walking time to reach their jobs. Seven O'Clock was work 
time. Whistles blew at 12 noon, ten till one and One O'Clock, there was a five 
O'clock whistle, and on some schedules, one at six. With this kind of help in 
keeping time, not alone [sic] the employees, but the school children, wives, 
store keepers, in fact the whole community were time conscious. The typical 
railroad community had a real feeling of guilt in starting a meeting late.^^^ 

As railroads dominated American transportation in the late 1800s and early 1900s, AHoona 
enjoyed a consistently sound economic base, thanks to the sustained prosperity of the 
Pennsylvania Railroad. Other businesses existed in the city, but none represented even a 
fraction of the power of the railroad. It was a one-horse town, despite a population that had 
reached 60,000 by 1913, and generally content to remain so, rising or falling according to the 
fortunes of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Many citizens recognized the dangers of this economic 
uniformity, and hoped to diversify the city's economic base. But the railroad was antagonistic 
to any development that smacked of competition. It resisted new industries' attempts to locate 
through its control of industrial water rights. The railroad even turned down the city itself 
when it tried to purchase a reservoir in 1930. 

149. Emerson, Allegheny Passage, 48. 

150. Ibid. 

151. Paul Kurtz, Blair Main Line, quoted in Emerson, Allegheni/ Passage, 56. 



The Pennsylvania Railroad's total dominance of the city cast a chilling shadov;' on its 
Statement that "The city of Altoona is a creation of the Pennsylvania Railroad. "^^^ (See 
figures 16 and 17 at the end of this chapter.) So long as the Pennsylvania Railroad remained 
the dominant force in western Pennsylvania transportation, Altoona would continue to 
prosper. But railroads would face increasingly perplexing challenges to their supremacy from 
an alternative form of transportation, the automobile, as well as technological change within 
the industry itself. 

Western Pennsylvania manufacturers contributed a significant number of technological 
irmovations to railroading in the 19th and 20th centuries. These included the Westinghouse 
air brake and switching and signalling equipment, the Janney semiautomatic coupler, the 
compressed air locomotive, the intercepting and reducing valve for compound cylinders on 
steam locomotives, the all-steel hopper car, and the aluminum bodied hopper car. But the one 
technological breakthrough that changed the face of the railroad industry in western 
Pennsylvania and the nation did not come from this region but from Europe. 

The development of the diesel-electric locomotive and its rapid adoption after World War II 
wrought profound changes in western Pennsylvania. Dieselization affected the region in 
several ways. First, it meant that railroads would no longer be consumers of coal, the energy 
source that had fueled their steam locomotives since at least the 1850s. As railroads consumed 
roughly 20% of the nation's coal production, the substitution of diesel-electric for steam 
locomotives profoundly affected the coal-producing regions of western Pennsylvania. The 
drop in demand for coal would reduce traffic on the railroads of the region, several of which 
owed their very existence to coal haulage. 

In addition, the "steam era" in railroading meant more than just steam locomotives. Railroads 
had to develop a vast infrastructure of shops and servicing facilities just to keep locomotives 
running on their lines. These facilities were located along the rail lines at fixed intervals, and 
they employed large numbers of highly skilled workers. Indeed, some towns along the 
railroad existed solely because they served the railroad's steam locomotives. Because of their 

152. The Pennsylvania Railroad Company. The Pennsylvania Railroad. A Strategic History. Altoona, PA (May 15, 
1905), 3. General statistics for use of the delegates to the International Railway Congress with special reference to 
the Altoona shops and yards. 


///. A Transportation Revolution: Railroads and the Rise of an Industrial Order 

very low maintenance requirements, diesel-electric locomotives spelled the doom of most 
railroad service and repair facilities in the region. Finally, the particular manner in which 
diesel-electric locomotives were introduced in the United States meant an end to locomotive 
construction by the Pennsylvania, which had manufactured roughly 70% of its own steam 
locomotives throughout most of its history. Thus many businesses and communities and the 
culture that surrounded the region's steam locomotive construction and repair facilities were 
victims of what sociologist Fred Cottrell called "death by dieselization."^^^ 

Innnnediately before dieselization occurred, the American locomotive industry was an 
oligopoly. The American Locomotive Company (Alco), a firm formed in 1901 through the 
merger and eventual consolidation of several smaller locomotive manufacturers, held about 
40% of the market. By 1928, Alco had fully consolidated its production facilities in 
Schenectady, New York. Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia, the nation's oldest and 
most successful locomotive manufacturer, also held about 40% of the market. Finally, the 
Lima Locomotive Works of Lima, Ohio, filled in the remaining 20% of the market. But, as 
noted, several railroads in the United States made their own locomotives, including the 
Pennsylvania, which built steam locomotives at its extensive shops in Altoona, Blair County. 

The diesel engine was conceptualized by the German engineer Rudolf Diesel, who built his 
first engine in 1897. It appeared to offer clear thermodynamic advantages to other internal 
combustion engines and especially to the steam engine (an external combustion engine). In 
1923, Alco, in conjunction with Ingersoll-Rand Company and General Electric, built an 
experimental three hundred horsepower diesel-electric and tested it on the New York Central 
Railroad, and by 1925, Alco had begun to market a commercial diesel-powered switching 
locomotive. These locomotives offered superior economics to steam-powered switchers, plus 
they avoided the extensive smoke of steam locomotives, which had begun to be regulated or 
even restricted in many urban areas. By the mid-1930s, Alco had sold some 190 diesel 
switchers, and demand increased in spite of the Depression. By this time, however, Alco had 
competitors, including an entirely new entrant, the General Motors Corporation. 

153. W. F. Cottrell, "Death by Dieselization: A Case Study in the Reaction to Technological Change," American 
Sociological Review 16 Qune 1951): 358-65. 



In 1930 General Motors purchased the assets of Electro-Motive Company, a manufacturer of 
gas-electric rail cars, and Winton Engine Company, a manufacturer of gas and diesel engines. 
Under the leadership of Charles Kettering, GM's research director, the company designed and 
built in 1934 the first diesel-electric passenger locomotives in the United States — the famous 
Burlington Zephyr for the B&Q and the City of Portland for the Union Pacific.^^ These two 
locomotives broke a number of time, distance, speed, and performance records and provided 
a clear signal that diesel-electric locomotives would supplant steam, at least on passenger 
lines. General Motors then introduced an improved diesel-electric locomotive designed for 
easy maintenance with standardized parts and offering superior performance. G.M.'s "Nr. 
103" had logged some 83,000 miles under often-adverse conditions, and it showed superior 
economics — fuel costs for thousand-freight-ton miles half those of steam, grade-climbing 
without the customary need of "helpers", time and distance averages never attained with 
steam, and very low maintenance inputs. 

These widely publicized test results pushed Baldwin to begin serious work on diesel 
locomotive development and Alco to devote more resources to road locomotive dieselization. 
Lima lagged considerably behind the other two steam locomotive makers. By this time, 
however, the die had been cast. Although the war would delay railroad adoption of freight 
diesel-electric locomotives. General Motors had already positioned itself to dominate the rapid 
and highly profitable dieselization of the American railroad. Alco gained a small piece 
of the market but lost even that share over time. Baldwin and Lima tried to combine their 
"strengths" by forming Baldwin, Lima, Hamilton Corporation in 1950 but were soon out of 
the locomotive business. General Motors raised its market share to as high as 89%, resulting 
in the company being investigated for antitrust violations. 

The Pennsylvania Railroad had long prided itself on its prowess in locomotive development. 
Indeed, it had been one of the major reasons that railroads in the United States had taken 
control over design of locomotives away from locomotive manufacturers as early as the 1860s. 
The Pennsylvania's motto, "The Standard Railroad of the World" pertained as much to its 

154. For Kettering's role in getting GM into the diesel locomotive business, see Stuart W. Leslie, Boss Kettering. 
Wizard of General Motors (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983), 267-73. 

155. Both contemporaries and historians have argued that decisions of the War Production Board actually favored 
General Motors and hamstrung Alco. 


///. A Transportation Revolution: Railroads and the Rise of an Industrial Order 

locomotive design and construction as to any aspect of the railroad's operations. Its Motive 
Power Department, headquartered in Altoona, had earned a reputation throughout the United 
States as a leader in locomotive design, manufacture, and testing, but this department, as well 
as virtually everyone else in the railroad, had become so enamored with steam power that 
its leaders did not recognize the potential of the diesel. 

In 1936, the Pennsylvania launched a special project to develop a high-speed duplex steam 
passenger locomotive — one that presumably would out-perform the new Burlington Zephyr. 
These efforts resulted in a locomotive (the Class S-1, Number 6100), built in the railroad's 
Juniata Shops in Altoona, which could travel at over 100 miles per hour. But the locomotive 
suffered severe maintenance problems and was scrapped in 1948. Nevertheless, the basic 
design of the S-1 inspired the Pennsylvania's efforts to design a high-speed, high-performance 
duplex freight locomotive, a project begun in 1939. The Q-2 resulted from this project, and 
between August 1944 and June 1945, the Pennsylvania manufactured 25 Q-2s in Altoona. But 
the performance of this steam-powered locomotive did not approach the General Motors 
diesel-electric road locomotive. 

Managers and engineers in the Motive Power Department still did not give up on steam. 
They initiated development of a steam turbine locomotive. Designed in Altoona, this 
locomotive (the S-2) was built cooperatively by Baldwin Locomotive and Westinghouse 
Electric. When tested at the Pennsylvania Railroad's famous test plant in Altoona, the S-2 
disappointed its designers. It delivered power with only 7.7% thermal efficiency — a small 
gain over the 6 to 8% that was common among conventional steam locomotives and well 
below the 15 to 30% ratings that diesel-electric locomotives were reported to possess. 
Moreover, its speed was limited, and road tests revealed a poor maintenance record. 

At no point during the late 1930s or during the early 1940s did the Pennsylvania's Motive 
Power Department or any other unit of the railroad advocate attempt to build a diesel- 
powered locomotive. The tools, the skills, the organizational capabilities, and the mindset in 
Altoona were fixed rigidly on steam locomotives. After all, the Pennsylvania owned and 
operated almost 5,000 such locomotives. Indeed, just before the war began, the railroad had 
ordered one passenger diesel from General Motors for operation on a subsidiary's line 
between Chicago and Nashville but had canceled that order after Pearl Harbor. Not until 



March 1944 — and the failures of the various high-speed, high performance steam locomotive 
development projects — did the Pennsylvania reactivate that order. 

During the remainder of 1944 and throughout 1946, the executives and engineers of the 
railroad carried out a debate about steam versus diesel, but at no point in the discussion was 
the possibility of the Pennsylvania building its ow^n diesels entertained. Within a year after 
the w^ar, as railroads in the United States logged more hours -with, diesel-electric locomotives 
and as they observed the phenomenal availability, performance, and service records of the 
new locomotives, it had become clear to all but the most obstinate partisans of steam power 
that diesels would drive steam off the American railroad. This vast sea change would render 
the Pennsylvania's steam locomotive construction organization and shops obsolete. 

The Pennsylvania Railroad's slow response to the diesel-electric locomotive reflected in part 
its commitment to the coal complex that had developed in western Pennsylvania. In 1945 
almost 35% of the Pennsylvania's freight (on a tonnage basis) was coal.^^^ The B&O was 
highly dependent on coal; almost 53% of its freight was coal, much of it mined in western 
Pennsylvania and carried (either as coal or as coke) to the region's iron and steel mills. 
Railroad executives were highly concerned about alienating coal companies and mine 
operators when they considered switching from steam to diesel. Even though these coal 
carriers received coal at highly favorable rates, steam locomotives could not match the total 
performance of the diesel. They recognized that a switch to diesels would raise their operating 
efficiency but reduce their haulage of coal. 

The dieselization of American railroads occurred at the same time that another large-scale 
transformation was occurring in the United States: the shift from coal to oil and natural gas 
for electricity generation, commercial and home heating and as a feed stock for the 
manufacture of chemicals. One factor that seems to have pushed even the coal-hauling 
railroads toward dieselization was the series of coal strikes by the United Mine Workers in 
1946, which resulted in the price of coal doubling and the development of coal shortages in 
some parts of the country. This strike prompted President Harry Truman to put federal troops 
in charge of the mines on May 26, 1946. 

156. The 1945 Pervnsylvania Railroad Annual Report claimed an even higher amount, 41%. 

///. A Transportation Revolution: Railroads and the Rise of an Industrial Order 

If the Pennsylvania and other major coal carriers had been slow to commit to dieselization 
after the war, by 1947 they joined the massive dieselization program being carried out in the 
U.S. Worried about remaining competitive with other major East-West lines, the 
Pennsylvania's managers made a decision in December 1946 to convert to dieselization as 
soon as possible. By 1957, the Pennsylvania had no more steam engines in service. 

Without question, dieselization had significant impacts on the region's railroad industry. The 
change led to closings of shops and other service facilities associated with steam-powered 
railroads and extremely sharp reduction of workers at those facilities that remained open. In 
1940, the Pennsylvania Railroad alone employed 18,272 workers at its shops at 18 locations 
in the region. Dieselization, combined with general decline of railroad shipments in the region 
led the Pennsylvania Railroad to close most of its shops in the region. Indeed, by the 1980s, 
only two repair shops of what formerly was the Permsylvania Railroad remained in the 
region, the Juniata shops in Altoona and the Conway shops in Beaver County. ^^^ After the 
Juniata shops built the Pennsylvania's last steam locomotives in 1946, the railroad began to 
cut employment there and in the Altoona steam locomotive repair shops. By 1949 
employment at Altoona stood at 11,939, a figure slightly higher than the depressed level of 
1940, but well below the employment reached during World War II when the railroad was 
running nearly at 100% of capacity. 

During the early stages of its program of dieselization the Pennsylvania built two entirely 
new facilities for repair and servicing of passenger and freight diesels in Harrisburg. To 
construct these facilities cost the railroad over $5.2 million in 1947, and in 1949, the railroad 
was projecting total construction expenditures for diesel shops of $16.1 million. But it was also 
projecting a "substantial savings" in repair facility costs owing to phasing out steam 
locomotives, and, of course, the bulk of these savings came by closing steam engine repair 
and manufacturing facilities and reducing the employment of skilled workers. 

The Altoona locomotive repair shops suffered greatly under the dieselization program even 
though the railroad's managers converted the Juniata facility into a diesel repair shop. 
Because diesels need far less frequent maintenance, the employment at Juniata paled in 

157. According to Diane Hays of Conrail Information, the Juniata/Altoona shops now employ about 1,500 



comparison with the steam engine era. The reduction in force devastated the Altoona 
community. By 1958, unemployment ran as high as 15%. In 1961, the PRR's Altoona shops 
employed 6,500 people, many of whom were part-time employees subject to long layoffs. The 
city's population declined steadily, and its median age increased significantly as Altoona's 
young moved away to find opportunities elsewhere. 

Between 1945 and 1959, the Pennsylvania reduced its total system-wide employment from 
161,436 to 79,516, or 51 percent. These figures contrast markedly with national statistics of a 
roughly comparable period (1947 to 1958) during which railroad employment dropped from 
1,350,000 to 846,000, or 38 percent. 

At this juncture — almost 150 years after a steam locomotive first pulled freight and 
passengers on the Portage Railroad — the verdict about the technological future of American 
railroads is unclear. On the one hand, there are some promising developments. Time 
magazine recently announced that American railroads were "back at full throttle" and 
concluded, "Leaner, cleaner, tougher, and better managed, America's freight-train system is 
becoming competitive again." Part of this turnaround was attributed to many of the 
technological changes that railroad leaders of the 1950s had envisaged, such as double-decker 
piggybacking, trains without cabooses and featherbedding workers, and automated freight 
handling and yard classification. Yet at the same time, Amtrak, the federal agency that 
manages railway passenger service in the United States, has undertaken testing of high-speed 
locomotives for several heavily traveled routes, but none of the locomotives being tested are 
U.S.-made. The Germans, the French, and the Japanese are competing for Amtrak orders. 

Today, the participation of firms and carriers in western Pennsylvania in bringing about 
technological change on the railroad is minuscule compared to what it was in the heyday of 
the steam railroad. Yet, regional and state planning agencies are actively promoting firms, 
universities, and research consortia in trying to reinvigorate the region's once-great 
leadership. One hundred forty years after the commonwealth of Pennsylvania conducted its 
fire sale of the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal, the state is making investments in rail 
transportation technologies and in the railroad network of the region, just as it did at the very 

158. Time, August 23, 1993, 52-55. 

///. A Transportation Revolution: Railroads and the Rise of an Industrial Order 

beginning of the railroad era. Whether these investments will yield a more competitive and 
economically prosperous region, or the region will see a flowering of firms comparable to a 
Cambria Steel Company, a J. Edgar Thomson Works or a Westinghouse Air Brake Company 
remains to be seen. One thing is clear, however. The resources that played so heavily in the 
making the region so technologically dynamic — coal, coke, iron, steel, and timber — are not 
likely to be so significant. But other factors — manufacturing skill, scientifically based 
knowledge, and flexibility — will probably be as critical to the future as they were to the past. 


Figure 12: Pennsylvania Railroad Freight Train Rounding the Horseshoe Curve. The 

gentle grade of the Horseshoe Curve reduced the Allegheny Front as an obstacle to large-scale 
transportation development in western Pennsylvania. Courtesy of the Railroaders Memorial 
Museum, Altoona, PA. 

Figure 13: One of the Roundhouses at the Altoona Shops of the Pennsylvania 
Railroad. Altoona grew quickly as the essential base of operations at the base of the Allegheny 
Front, n.d. Courtesy of the Railroaders Memorial Museum, Altoona, PA. 


"^ ^■■Map fc^ wiiBif...;*.!.^. 

Figure 14: Locomotive Crane. Juniata Shops, Altoona, PA, 1949. Railroad technology 
dwarfed that of early transportahon systems, as well as those who created it. Courtesy of the 
Altoona Area Public Library, Altoona, PA. 


Figure 15: Metal Yard No. 1. Altoona Works, 1913. The increasing sophistication of 
transportation technology often dramatically altered the landscape. Courtesy of the Altoona Area 
Public Library, Altoona, PA. 


Figure 16: Car Inspection Pit at the Altoona Works, 1930. The transportation systems of 
the 20th century seemed to engulf the individual. Courtesy of the Altoona Area Public Library, 
Altoona, PA. 

Figure 17: Section Gang. Some might wonder whether transportation systems served humans, 
or vice versa, n.d. Courtesy of the Railroaders Memorial Museum, Altoona, PA. 


IV. Transportation in the Automobile Age: 
Highways, Turnpikes, and Interstates 

The road is that physical sign by which you best understand any age or people 
... for the road is a creation of man and a type of civilized society.^^^ 

Railroads dominated the region's freight and passenger transportation well into the 20th 
century. However, in the late 1800s road transportation began to show signs of a mild 
resurgence. This reflected a growing interest in recreational activity, but it also presaged 
technological advances in overland transportation that would change the face of American 
transportation. The development of the automobile ultimately would alter American society 
and economy as fundamentally as railroads had almost a century earlier. 

The bicycle, not the automobile, initially triggered the renewed interest in roads. Although 
the bicycle had been in existence in one form or another since the early 1800s, its popularity 
in the United States grew as part of a larger social phenomenon. The rapidly industrializing 
American economy stimulated the growth of an American middle class that was urban. 

159. Horace Bushnell, 1864, quoted in Thomas J. Schlereth, U.S. 40. A Roadscape of the American Experience. 
(Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1985), 1. 



relatively well-educated, and oriented toward the consumption of the very goods that the 
country's industrial enterprises were producing. 

At the same time, the American family was making the transition from a productive to a 
consuming unit, and an increase in leisure for members of the middle class helped m.ake 
recreation a consumable commodity. This consumer item appeared in the form of passive 
entertainments like baseball, football, the arts, and theater. Men and women also became more 
actively involved in outdoor activities, including bicycling. The growing numbers of cyclists 
created a demand for the improvement of roadways. Cycling organizations like the League 
of American Wheelmen were able to bring some effective lobbying pressure on state 
legislatures to allocate funding for resurfacing roads. As early as 1879, the League of 
American Wheelmen was able to persuade the Pennsylvania legislature to pass an act creating 
a system of bicycle and pedestrian paths paralleling the state's highways. ^^^ 

By the turn of the 20th century, bicyclists began to receive support in their push for better 
roads from other quarters. Automobile enthusiasts were growing in number and added their 
voices to the calls for transportation improvements. But the automobile was, at this time, even 
more than the bicycle, a toy for the rich, and the influence of its adherents was limited. 
However, the lobbying efforts of bicycle and automobile users combined with the expansion 
of Rural Free Delivery in the 1890s led not only to increased efforts to improve the nation's 
roads, but also to the creation of the technological and bureaucratic structures necessary for 
the construction and maintenance of an integrated highway system. 

The need for a sophisticated network of highways may appear absurdly self-evident today, 
but the automobile's potential ability to reorder American transportation and society was not 
so obvious at the turn of the century. Many Americans, particularly those living in rural 
areas, were openly antagonistic to the growing automobile culture, which they perceiv^ed as 
an idle pursuit for dilettantes. The increasing number of recreational auto trips by urban 
dwellers into the countryside resulted in conflicts between motorists and rural inhabitants. 
At their worst, such confrontations served to widen the gulf between rural and urban 

160. William H. Shank, huiian Trails to Super Highways, (York: American Canal and Transportation Center, 1988), 


IV. Transportation in the Automobile Age: Highways, Turnpikes, and Interstates 

In the first decades of the 20th century, however, Americans outside the cities began to 
provide services for motorists. The economic benefits they derived reconciled them to the 
realities of the evolving automobile culture. More important, while early automobiles offered 
urbanites little more than a recreational diversion, they provided rural dwellers the means to 
escape the sometimes disheartening isolation and monotony of life in the country. Far from 
being a mere recreational outlet, the car greatly enhanced the social and economic lives of 
farmers and other rural inhabitants. The refinement of the nation's road network was essential 
to maintaining a link between rural America and the rapidly evolving urban sector of the 
United States. 

Pennsylvania's road system had with few exceptions degenerated into a rutted morass by the 
end of the 19th century. A number of former turnpike companies were resurrected, but the 
task of creating and maintaining a road system clearly was beyond the reach of any private 
entity. The state of Pennsylvania recognized the necessity of public action and established the 
Permsylvania State Highway Department on April 5, 1903. 


The creation of a state agency signalled a return to the kind of state involvement in public 
works that had been repudiated in the aftermath of the Pennsylvania Main Line System's 
demise, although this first step was still quite limited in scope. Through the state highway 
department, the Pennsylvania Treasury would grant aid to the counties to build roads and 
highways, paying two-thirds of the cost of reconstruction. ^^^ The state itself had no 
highway mileage. In 1905, the state increased its contribution to three-quarters of the cost of 

These measures in themselves were not equal to the task of improving the state's roads. In 
some cases, townships and counties did not take advantage of the state subsidy and failed 
to make improvements on local roads. In response, the state passed the Highway Acts of 
1911. This act provided for a far greater degree of public involvement in transportation 
improvements. The new highway acts would create a system of county roads, with the state 
paying 50% of the cost of their construction or improvement. More importantly, the acts 
created a system of state highways that would be funded, improved and maintained entirely 

161. Williams, "Pennsylvania Turnpike," 55, and George Beyer, "Pennsylvania's Roads in the Tw^entieth Century," 
Historic Pennsylvania Leaflet No. 34 (Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1972), 1. 



by the state. The acts also authorized a buyout of the remaining turnpike companies in the 
state, the creation of rules for road usage, and the power to enforce them. 

The move tow^ard road and highway improvement also reflects the larger picture of 
progressive reform in Pennsylvania that was occurring at this time. The progressive reform 
spirit that shaped much of Pennsylvania's, as well as the nation's history, undoubtedly carried 
over into support for a state-supported transportation system. ^^^ The progressive notion 
that one function of clean government was to provide efficient services for its citizens created 
an atmosphere that was conducive to a far greater level of government intervention in the 
economy and in public works than had been thinkable only a few decades before. 

Improvements in transportation also loomed as a more significant issue in western 
Pennsylvania's major urban center, as well. Pittsburgh continued to experience significant 
growth throughout the latter third of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th 
century.^ The rising popularity of the automobile posed a vexing problem for city 
planners who had to cope both with the city's rate of growth and with a radically new 
transportation technology. Even before the automobile became a contributing factor to 
Pittsburgh's traffic congestion, the city was forced to come to grips with the inadequacies of 
its infrastructure. 

Like virtually all American cities, Pittsburgh had been in its earlier years a pedestrian city. 
No public transportation existed until the 1840s, and the city was relatively unstratified, in 
that the members of various classes were relatively closely integrated within the city's core. 
"Work and residence were often closely linked, and the city's elite — bankers, merchants, 
industrialists, and professionals — lived largely in the urban core close to governmental. 

162. Progressivism, or the Progressive Era, which lasted roughly 30 years (1890-1920) is a complex and in some 
ways contradictory series of movements than cannot be summarized in a few paragraphs. Like many reform 
movements, it looked both forward and backward, toward an idealized future that was based in part on nostalgic 
recollections of the past. Many progressive reformers believed that the rational foundations of both business and 
science could be applied to government, in order to take political power from urban political bosses and restore 
a more traditional "American" form of democracy. "Good government" in turn could be used to address a variety 
of social ills. Many progressives advocated a level of government activism that ran counter to their earlier political 
inclinations. This in part reflected their anxieties over the profound changes that occurred in the United States of 
the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and what these changes meant for their own futures. 

163. Joel A. Tarr, "Infrastructure and City-Building in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries" in Citi/ at the Point. 
Essays on the Social History of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1989), 228 and 240. 


IV. Transportation in the Automobile Age: Highways, Ti4rnpikes, and Interstates 

commercial, and mercantile activities while the working class resided in nearby alleys and 
streets or in the outlying wards. "^^ This resulted in a relatively high population density 
for Pittsburgh, while the city's dynamic growth rate stimulated the development of other 
towns and communities along the rivers. As the city continued to grow, it eventually faced 
the necessity of providing not only some form of public transport for its inhabitants but also 
some connection with the communities on its outskirts. 

Pittsburgh responded with the construction of omnibuses, horse-drawn bus lines, in the late 
1840s. These were followed by the development of streetcars on the eve of the Civil War. 
Railroads provided commuter transportation between the Pittsburgh core city and the other 
towns along the rivers. The development of a mass-transit system, although badly integrated, 
allowed Pittsburgh to engage in the first phase of American suburbanization. The existence 
of efficient transportation into the core city gave the upper and middle classes of the 
population the option of residing in outlying areas, an option they readily exercised. 

Pittsburgh's continued commercial and industrial development within the geographic 
restrictions of the three rivers area created a transportation bottleneck, particularly in the 
city's central business district. The public transportation infrastructure was totally unsuited 
to automobile traffic. In 1900, only one downtown Pittsburgh street was wider than 40 feet, 
and many of these narrow streets already carried streetcar lines.^^^ The introduction of the 
automobile threatened a transportation gridlock within the city's core. Concerned citizens 
responded by organizing the Pittsburgh Civic Commission. The commission retained the 
services of three urban planners to prepare a city plan. Their preliminary plan called for 
further study of ways to improve the city's infrastructure, including its transportation 

One of the planners, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.^^^ prepared a report that proposed 
comprehensive changes in the city's transportation network. Olmsted's plan recognized the 

164. Tarr, "Infrastructure and City-Building," 217. 

165. Tarr, "Transportation Innovation and Changing Spatial Patterns in Pittsburgh, 1850-1934/' Public Works 
Historical Society 1978, 26. 

166. Olmsted's father, Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of New York's Central Park, had pioneered the art 
of landscape architecture in the United States. 



limitations that the city's geography placed on transportation. It also accepted as inevitable 
the automobile's eventual dominance of the urban transportation scene. His report 
recommended solutions to Pittsburgh's increasing traffic congestion that were compatible with 
the city's physical constraints. The city adopted a number of Olmsted's proposals, which 
contributed greatly to the city's eventual dependence on private transportation. 

As Pittsburgh made improvements to its internal transportation network, the state began to 
improve the arteries that connected the city to the rest of the state. The combination of state 
and federal aid from the Pennsylvania Highway Acts of 1903, 1905, and 1911 and the Federal 
Highway Act of 1916 allowed for the construction and improvement of state and federal 
highways in the same rights of way that had served Pittsburgh in the 19th century. U.S. 
Highway 22 utilized much of the route of the Huntingdon, Cambria, and Indiana Turnpike. 
The Lincoln Highway, or U.S. 30, followed the historic routes of the Forbes Road and the 
Pennsylvania Road. By 1929, about one-third of Pennsylvania's 8,900 miles of paved state 
highways were in western Pennsylvania. By 1930, a combination of six state and federal 
highways served the city, reinforcing the city's traditional role as an important national 
crossroads. One of these, the Lincoln Highway, became one of the nation's first 
transcontinental highways (see Highways — 1913 to Present map). 

It is a name to conjure with. It calls to the heroic. It enrolls a mighty panorama 
of fields and woodlands: of humble cabins and triumphant farm homes . . . 
burrowing mines and smoking factories . . . commerce-laden rivers and 
horizon-lost oceans. And because it binds together all these wonders and 
sweeps forward till it touches the end of the earth and beginning of the sea it 
is to be named the Lincoln Highway. 

The creation of the Lincoln Highway offers one of the best representations of the early 
development of American highways. The highway was the brainchild of Carl G. Fisher, the 
developer of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the founder of the Prest-O-Lite Company, 
manufacturer of carbide headlights for automobiles. Fisher was a booster and a developer, 
inclined toward ideas and plans on a grand scale. Fisher accumulated an enormous fortune, 
which he lost in the crash of his last and most grandiose scheme, the Florida land 

167. Reverend Frank G. Brainard. (Salt Lake City, October 19, 1913), quoted in Drake Hokanson, The Lincoln 
Highway. Main Street Across America. (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1988), 14. Booster hyperbole does not 
get much better than this. Perhaps the Reverend Brainard enjoyed an advantage from his training for the pulpit. 



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IV. Transportation in tlie Automobile Age: Highways, Turnpikes, and Interstates 

development boom of the late 1920s. In 1912, Fisher proposed the construction of a 
transcontinental highway. The Lincoln Highway Association was established on July 1, 1913. 

Fisher was joined in the association by a group of wealthy businessmen that included Henry 
B. Joy, the president of the Packard Motor Car Company, Roy Chapin, the president of the 
Hudson Motor Car Company, and Frank A. Seiberling, the founder of the Goodyear Tire and 
Rubber Company. Clearly, many of the leading figures in the automotive industry saw the 
advantages of promoting a movement for the improvement of the nation's auto roads.^^^ 
The New York to San Francisco highway would be built with funds raised by the association 
in the form of subscriptions from individuals and from the communities through which the 
highway passed. The publicity surrounding the planning and construction of the Lincoln 
Highway helped bring the issue of American highway development before the public. 

The development of the Lincoln Highway gave Pennsylvania its first cross-state road since 
the Pennsylvania Road of a century before. The new highway largely followed the route of 
this previous road. In doing so, it helped rejuvenate the many towns that had grown up 
along the old road. These communities had declined as the railroad main lines bypassed them 
in the latter half of the 19th century. 

The passage of the Federal Highway Act of 1916 brought additional funding to portions of 
the private association highway. It also signalled the first federal effort to aid the in the 
creation of a road system since Congress had passed legislation for the National Road 110 
years ago. The federal government once again would play a significant role in western 
Pennsylvania's transportation development. This role would broaden dramatically in the next 
25 years. 

The Lincoln Highway was only one of numerous private associations created between 1913 
and 1926. Another association highway created during this period that was of particular 
importance to western Pennsylvania was the National Old Trails Road, that ran from 

168. Fisher attempted to attract the support of Henry Ford to the Lincoln Highway, but Ford firmly refused to 
associate himself with any effort to fund and build private highways. ". . . as long as private interests are willing 
build good roads for the general public, the general public will not be very much interested in building good roads 
for itself. I believe in spending money to educate the public to the necessity of building good roads, and let 
everybody contribute their share in proper taxes." Hokanson, The Lincoln Highway, 8. 



Washington D.C., to Los Angeles. This road incorporated the route of the old National Road 
along with the routes of other historic roads and trails. This highu'ay, like the Lincoln 
Highway, relied heavily on over-blown promotion and propaganda to attract subscriptions. 
Its advocates billed the road as the "true course of American Manifest Destiny." This claim, 
if true, could also be interpreted as the most damning indictment of the road's im.pact on 
American history. This statement, like those made about the Lincoln Highway, reveal much 
about the perception of transportation's role in shaping our history, as well as our perceived 
ability to dominate our environment. This issue was especially relevant in western 
Pennsylvania, where the formidable topography continued to pose a challenge to the 
improvement of transportation. 

The National Old Trails Road helped to revitalize the communities that had flourished 
during the boom times of the National Road from 1818-1850. These highways spurred the 
construction of cabin camps, motor courts, motels, truck stops, gas stations and garages, 
roadside diners, and grand hotels for the comfort of well-heeled motor tourists. The growing 
automobile culture encouraged the development of a new vernacular architecture that 
profoundly shaped the character of American communities. The roads themselves changed 
the physical character of the region's landscape. Whereas earlier roads by necessity had 
followed the contours of the land, new road building technology created wider rights-of-way, 
shallower grades, and long, sweeping curves. The new roads left a far more visible 
impression, or scar, on the land. 

These roads, like their predecessors, confronted the problem of overcoming the Allegheny 
Front. The ridge still presented a barrier to travellers along the state's east-west corridors. The 
growth of the nation's automobile culture created new incentives for overcoming the 
AUeghenies. The Lincoln Highway in particular exhibited some shortcomings in its crossing 
of the Ridge. Tho road's steep grades and sharp turns often proved to be too great a challenge 
either to automotive technology or the skills of the vehicles' operators. 

By the late 1920s, the automobile quickly had evolved from a play thing for the wealthy into 
a transportation alternative that was beginning to pose a serious challenge to the nation's 
railroads. The rapid increase in traffic loads was overtaxing the limited highway system that 
existed. The American Association of State Highway Officials requested that the federal 


IV. Transportation in the Automobile Age: Highways, Turnpikes, and Interstates 

government intervene and bring some order to the chaotic jumble of roads and highways. In 
1926, the Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) devised a plan for a numbered road system that 
would create a rough grid pattern across the United States. The Lincoln Highway and the 
National Old Trails Road became parts of U.S. Highways 30 and 40, respectively. This level 
of federal intervention helped alleviate some of the problems of the nation's highways, but 
in itself was not sufficient as traffic continued to increase. Pennsylvania Gov. Gifford Pinchot, 
in his second term (1931-1935), pushed hard for an increase in road construction throughout 
Pennsylvania, particularly in the rural areas where he enjoyed the bulk of his political 
strength. To make good on his campaign promise to "get the farmers out of the mud," Pinchot 
embarked on an ambitious plan to build "more miles of good roads rather than fewer miles 
of faultless boulevards. "^^^ 

Pinchot's program built hundreds of miles of roads connecting rural Pennsylvania to markets 
and urban centers, but the narrow "Pinchot roads" followed the contours of the land and were 
covered with a thin hardened surface that could not withstand heavy traffic loads. They 
undoubtedly improved transportation throughout much of western Pennsylvania, but they 
did not offer a long-term solution to the problem of national highway development. The 
science of highway construction itself would have to evolve to keep pace with the 
improvements in automobile technology. In the late 1930s, western Pennsylvania would 
become the setting for the development of a new kind of highway, one that would be a 
prototype both for American highway technology and federal assistance to the improvement 
of the nation's transportation infrastructure. 

By the time Governor Pinchot had embarked on his road improvement program, 
Pennsylvania, along with the rest of the nation, was absorbing the brunt of the Great 
Depression of 1929-1941. The number of automobile operators in western Pennsylvania 
apparently declined in the early and mid-1930s,^''^ as did vehicular traffic. ^^^ At the 

169. Philip S. Klein and Ari Hoogenboom, A History of Pennsylvania, 453. 

170. This statement is based on data that Joel Tarr has compiled and analyzed for Allegheny County between 1929 
and 1934. In this period, automobile registration declined 44.6%. We may reasonably assume that this trend is not 
an aberration, and that it carried over into other parts of western Pennsylvania. This predominantly rural area, 
like other agricultural sections of the country, was particularly hard hit by the Depression. 

171. Williams, "The Pennsylvania Turnpike System," 2. 



same time, the state's unemployment figures skyrocketed, reaching a peak of 37.1 percent 
unemployment in March of 1933. Pinchot's road projects, therefore, focused almost as 
much on work relief as on transportation improvements. The Pinchot roads vs^ere designed 
to be constructed with a maximum of human labor, utilizing mechanization as little as 

The Depression dramatically affected the state's political traditions, as well. Since the end of 
the Civil War, Pennsylvania had been a rock-solid bastion of the Republican Party. The 
Democratic Party in the state for decades had been little more than a straw man virtually 
unable to win any statewide elections. The Depression threw this political hierarchy out the 
window. Although the state's Republican party had implemented some Progressive reforms, 
the urban machines of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh that controlled the party resisted 
widespread change. The state elected Pinchot, a Progressive disciple of Theodore Roosevelt 
unaffiliated with the Republican machines, to two terms, but this occurred only when the 
party was split into various factions. Pinchot initiated some relief measures, including his 
road program, but the Republican party's opposition to Franklin Roosevelt's presidential 
candidacy and the first New Deal opened the door for the creation of a viable alternative to 
decades of Republican control of the state's political process. 

Pennsylvania's revitalized Democratic party embarked on a program of liberal reform that 
paralleled that of the New Deal. Relief and reform in Pennsylvania increasingly occurred as 
a result of cooperation between the state and federal government. Much of the aid for 
recovery appeared as funding to improve the state's transportation systems. The National 
Industrial Recovery Act provided $19 million for improvements to the state highway. Other 
aid for roads came through the Works Progress Administration, which employed 143,000 men 
in the state by November 1938. 

The federal government made its most significant contribution to Pennsylvania's 
transportation by assisting the state's effort to build a four-lane, high-speed, limited access 
highway. The construction of the Pennsylvania Turnpike represents one of the best examples 
of the state's "Little New Deal" public works spending projects. The turnpike, like many other 

172. Klein and Hoogcnboom, A Histoiy of Pennsylvania , 450. 

IV. Transportation in the Automobile Age: Highways, Turnpikes, and Interstates 

improvement projects in the state's history, combined attempts to alleviate unemployment 
and revitalize the state's economy with the more tangible ambition of expanding the state's 
transportation infrastructure. 

In fact, unemployment relief was the chief incentive behind the Patterson Resolution,^''-^ 
the original legislation that called for a feasibility study of the turnpike concept.^^^ State 
officials moved quickly to secure federal assistance for the project. Directly or indirectly, the 
United States government financed virtually all construction of the initial 160-mile segment 
of the turnpike from Carlisle, west of Harrisburg, to Irwin, east of Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania 
secured an outright grant of 29.5 million dollars from the Public Works Administration. In 
addition. Reconstruction Finance Corporation purchased $40.8 million in turnpike bonds.^^^ 
The RFC committed to buying all bonds required for construction, because the Turnpike 
Commission initially had little success in finding buyers in the private sector. 

The difficulty in attracting investors, in part, is due to the fact that the turnpike was a radical 
departure from American highway planning and design. Never had a toll automobile 
highway or bridge of this scope been built in the United States. In addition, the federal 
government's Bureau of Public Roads adamantly opposed the construction of toll highways, 
on the basis that toll highways could not support themselves. Much of the support for the 
improvement of American highways had come as a result of the success of the German 
autobahn system. But the bureau's director, Thomas H. McDonald, resisted any changes in 
highway policy based on comparisons of the U.S. and German systems. BPR engineers argued 
that the underlying philosophies of the two were so radically different that a fair comparison 
was impossible. The autobahns had been constructed to encourage auto use, which. 
Depression notwithstanding, was the least of the United States highway system's problems. 
The autobahn's success led many American highway engineers to consider seriously the 
construction of an American network of super highways, but the bureau also resisted this 

173. House Resolution No. 138, named for its sponsor. State Representative Cliff S. Patterson, who introduced the 
bill on April 23, 1935. 

174. Williams, "The Pennsylvania Turnpike," 84; Dan Cupper, The Pennsylvania Turnpike. A History (Pennsylvania 
Turnpike Commission), 6. 

175. The Reconstruction Finance Corporation played an important part in the Roosevelt New Deal, but it was 
actually created during the Hoover administration to provide funding to banks and other depressed corporations. 



concept saying that such a system could not adequately serve the interests of the majority 
of American motorists. ^^^ The BPR under McDonald maintained that funding should go 
to improve urban highways, and that two-lane highways would be adequate for most 
interstate travel. 

The Pennsylvania State Highway Department also opposed the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and 
its opposition led to the creation of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. The commission 
acquired the federal funding to commence design, acquire land, and begin to make 
improvements on the selected right-of-way. In less than two years, the commission 
oversaw the construction of 160 miles of highway, 7 tunnels, (6 of which initially had been 
excavated for the South Perm Railroad), 11 interchanges, and 307 bridges and culverts. The 
turnpike opened on October 1, 1940. The number of motorists on the highway exceeded the 
forecasts of the turnpike's traffic planners and completely repudiated the pessimistic forecasts 
of the BPR. Until the beginning of World War II, the turnpike carried almost twice the 
number of vehicles that originally had been projected (see figures 18 and 19 at the end of this 

The Pennsylvania Turnpike's limited access design signalled a radical departure from early 
road systems, which had been built in part to link communities. As the turnpike bypassed 
communities, its designers had to provide alternatives to the services that travellers normally 
would have found in the region's towns and cities. Turnpike engineers designed and built 
10 service plazas, at 25-30 mile intervals. These plazas, which offered food and fuel to 
travellers, were leased to the Standard Oil Company of Pennsylvania. Standard in turn 
subleased the food and gift concessions to the Howard Johnson's restaurant chain. 

Curiously, the service plazas were built in a style reminiscent of colonial Pennsylvania 
housing. Perhaps the turnpike's designers felt that this most modem of highways needed 

176. Bruce E. Seely, Building the American Highway System. Engineers as Policy Makers, (Philadelphia: Temple 
University Press, 1987), 161. 

177. Much of the turnpike's right-of-way would follow the right-of-way of the South Penn Railroad, an abortive 
attempt by Andrew Carnegie and William H. Vanderbilt of the New York Central Railroad to create viable 
competition for the Pennsylvania Railroad. Although never completed, the South Penn's gentle grades provided 
a superior auto route, as compared to either U.S. highways 22 or 30, the other Pennsylvania cross-state highways. 


IV. Transportation in the Automobile Age: Highways, Turnpikes, and Interstates 

some link, however forced, with the state's past transportation traditions. They created an 
instantly quaint setting for the plazas, a totally functional service station with a historical false 
front completely unrelated to the automobile era. The service plazas foreshadow an almost 
Disneyesque reinvention of reality, in which the imposition of "historic" architecture forces 
a false patina of tradition, of historical continuity, on a revolutionary transportation 

The turnpike's immediate success foreshadowed significant changes in American highway 
planning and design. Clearly, the BPR's claims that a toll highway could not pay for itself had 
been seriously undermined. The highway's dramatic financial returns triggered a post-war 
boom in toll road construction that ended only with the passage of the Federal- Aid Highway 
Act of 1956. The turnpike also played a role in revising the nation's defense planning. 
The shortcomings of France's road system in its defeat to Germany cast doubt on the BPRs 
assertion that the nation's highway network was adequate for national defense. The turnpike's 
efficient function during the war impressed upon Congress the importance of efficient 
transportation to facilitate internal defense. Cold war anxieties over a possible armed conflict 
with the Soviet Union provided additional impetus for the creation of an integrated system 
of limited access highways, modeled in part on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. 

The Turnpike Commission acted quickly in the post-war era to extend the turnpike's route, 
first to extend the road to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, then to connect it with highway 
systems in other states. By 1954, the turnpike had been linked with both the New Jersey and 
Ohio turnpikes. By the late 1950s, "motorists could travel between Maine and the Indiana- 
Ohio border (soon to be extended to the Chicago metropolitan area) without encountering a 
single stop light, cross street or grade crossing."^ The turnpike played an essential role 
in reinforcing western Pennsylvania's traditional role as a transportation corridor in the 20th 

The turnpike clearly set a standard for the design of American limited access highways. Its 
influence on highway funding was much more limited. Although a number of turnpikes 

178. Seely, Bruce. Building the American Highway System, 221. 

179. Cupper, The Pennsylvania Turnpike, 31. 



based on the Pennsylvania model w^ere constructed in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the 
majority of superhighway advocates, including the trucking industry lobby, automobile clubs, 
and the American Association of State Highway Officials, opposed direct user fees to fund 
and maintain an interstate system. These groups and others favored funding based on 
gasoline taxes and other automobile-related items. However, the turnpike's demonstrated 
success in facilitating a large volume of long-distance auto traffic certainly reinforced the 
argument for the creation of an interstate highway network. 

The development of the network known commonly as the interstate highways developed, as 
had other transportation systems before it, as a combination of transportation improvement, 
public subsidy to the private sector, and economic leveler. The Cold War added a new 
dimension to the history of transportation development. The interstates were intended not 
only to provide for civilian travel, but the movement of military forces, as well. 

The interstate program was the favored son of the Eisenhower administration's domestic 
programs. In contrast to the radical elements of the Republican Party who reacted against two 
decades of Democratic dominance of national politics by attempting to dismantle significant 
elements of the New Deal, President Dwight Eisenhower assumed a more moderate posture. 
He and the leaders of the party's center kept much of the New Deal policies intact, including 
planning for an interstate highway network. 

Eisenhower in particular felt a strong attachment to the interstate concept. The president saw 
the system, like its many transportation predecessors, performing more than one important 
function. One, it would facilitate civilian travel by increasing highway safety, relieving traffic 
congestion between urban and suburban areas, and providing efficient linkages between the 
country's major urban centers. Two, it would enhance internal defense capabilities. Three, 
federal highway spending would provide an effective way to moderate dips and peaks in the 
national economy. In 1956, Congress passed the Interstate Highway Act, which provided for 
the construction of 41,000 miles (later increased to 42,500 miles) of limited access highways. 
The federal government would fund 90% of the cost of the system. 

The interstate highways symbolize the shift in emphasis of American transportation 
development in the 20th century. The system accelerated the transition from mass transit to 


IV. Transportation in the Automobile Age: Highways, Turnpikes, and Interslates 

private transportation. In fact, it was the largest single factor in that transition in the years 
after World War II. The interstates definitely improved travel between the nation's major 
urban centers, and by facilitating commuting between inner city and suburb, contributed 
greatly to the wave of post-war suburbanization. However, this process also played a 
significant role in the rapid deterioration of the nation's core cities, as more affluent urban 
dwellers fled the city for the suburbs. 

The American urban setting changed as new communities sprang up by the hundreds along 
the interstate corridors. Retailers began to depart downtown areas to move to suburban 
shopping centers, further depleting the city's tax base. Urban mass transit declined, as the 
vast majority of public spending was redirected toward improvements of the automobile 
infrastructure. "[Seventy-five] percent of all government transportation dollars (local, state, 
and federal) went to subsidize travel by car and truck; only 1 percent was earmarked for 
urban mass transit.' Clearly, federal spending on the interstate system represented an 
enormous subsidy to the American middle class. 

The interstate system has a significant presence in western Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania 
Turnpike has been incorporated as part of Interstate 70, a route running from Washington 
D.C., to central Utah, where it connects with Interstate 15 to complete a transcontinental 
artery. Interstate 80, a true transcontinental highway connecting New York and San Francisco, 
bisects the state just north of its east-west center line. The highway passes through western 
Pennsylvania approximately 50 miles north of Pittsburgh. This road was originally conceived 
as the Keystone Shortway, a second cross-state toll highway, but this plan was altered with 
the passage of the interstate highway legislature in 1956. 

As was the case in other parts of the country, Pennsylvania officials saw little reason to 
construct highways with state funding when the federal government could be persuaded to 
pay 90 percent of the costs. The subject of the political machinations involving local and 
regional efforts to secure additions to the interstate system has not been fully explored, but 
clearly, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania had much to gain from the designation of a 
second East-West interstate route. 

180. Davidson, Nation of Nations, 1122. 



Politics aside, how^ever, the Keystone Shortway's created a valuable transportation artery. It 
became part of the shortest, most efficient transcontinental highway route in the country. For 
Pennsylvania, it brought a modem transportation system to a region that had not enjoyed the 
same level of transportation improvements as the rest of w^estern Pennsylvania. The highway 
also relieved congestion on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. This highway has opened new 
opportunities for economic development for the area through which it passes, as have so 
many other transportation arteries in the region's history. Together, Interstates 70 and 80 have 
reinforced the region's historic role as an important corridor for travel between East and West. 

Another interstate route, hiterstate 79, runs north and south in the extreme western part of 
the state, from the West Virginia line through Pittsburgh, to Erie. Although this highway 
serves more as a regional artery, it strengthens the traditional transportation link between 
Pittsburgh and the Great Lakes. The highway also provides a limited-access connection 
between the two East-West interstate corridors. 

The future of western Pennsylvania's interstate system, like that of the system throughout the 
nation, is somewhat clouded. The maintenance needs of this vast network have exceeded all 
early estimates. The interstate system required massive improvements even before it was 
completed. The state's east-west arteries require major repair and reconstruction. In an ironic 
twist on the history of the interstate program, both state and federal officials are considering 
seriously expanding the state's current toll road network in order to raise funds for 
refurbishing the system. The state has studied a concept for converting the Keystone 
Shortway into a toll road, as was originally proposed. ^^^ The very system that effectively 
killed the toll highway movement may be forced to revive toll-based funding for its very 

Regardless of the eventual solution arrived at for maintaining the integrity of the region's 
highway system, western Pennsylvania almost certainly will remain a vital corridor in the 
nation's transportation network. The United States has yet to show any inclination to divorce 
itself from its dependence on motor vehicles as the dominant technology for transporting 

181. David J. Cuff, et a\., ed., The Atlas of Pennsylvania, (Temple University Press: Philadelphia, 1989), 186. 

IV. Transportation in the Automobile Age: Highways, Turnpikes, and Interstates 

passengers and freight. The region's interstate arteries will continue to provide an essential 
function within the national transportation network. 

Although western Pennsylvania's railroads have declined steadily since the 1930s, and rapidly 
since the end of World War II, they still remain as an important element of both the regional 
and national transportation picture. A number of alterations in the railroads' organizational 
operational structures have allowed them to provide efficient freight service. As traffic 
congestion, urban sprawl, air and water pollution, and other environmental impacts related 
to automobile use worsen, the nation may make a more concerted effort to redirect its 
energies toward other transportation alternatives. More efficient light rail and high-speed rail 
for interurban and interstate travel may offer viable alternatives to automobile travel. The 
replacement of the automobile as the mainstay of American may strike some as pure fantasy. 
But who in 1900 would have predicted the decline and eventual demise of the railroad 
oligarchy? (See figure 20 at the end of this chapter.) 

The historic functions of the western Pennsylvania transportation corridor have evolved in 
a dramatic and complex pattern over the centuries, yet the corridor's essential character has 
remained remarkably consistent. The region still enjoys a vital geographic location that 
establishes it as a natural crossroads, regardless of the technological changes that have taken 
place over time. Its existing transportation systems still can adapt to whatever direction 
national transportation developments may take. Although western Pennsylvania's traditional 
industrial base has all but evaporated, the evolution of its urban and rural areas will still 
require the support of a transportation network. In all of Pittsburgh's radical changes over 
the last 40 years, one improvement to its infrastructure perhaps best symbolizes western 
Pennsylvania's link to its historic traditions: the construction of a new airport to serve as a 
hub for a major air carrier. As it has so often in the past, transportation technology will 
continue to adapt to the complex landscape of western Pennsylvania. 


Figure 18: Route #350 Near Tyrone, Blair County, PA. Early highway construction projects 
often fit the contours of the surrounding landscape, n.d. Courtesy of the Pennsylvania State 
Archives, Harrisburg, PA. 

Figure 19: Clear Ridge Cut, October, 1940. The more sophisticated Pennsylvania Turnpike 
had a markedly greater impact on the land. Courtesy of the Pennsylvania State Archii^es, Harrisburg, 


Photo 20: Excavation for the Foundation of the U.S. Steel Building, Pittsburgh, 1966. 
The excavation uncovered the tunnels of the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal and the 
Pennsylvania Railroad. This extraordinary juxtaposiHon illustrates the way in which 
transportation helped lay the city's foundation and also symbolizes the historic link between the 
transportation and steel industries. Courtesy of the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania. 




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Text by Tom Thomas, Historian, National Park Service, Denver Service Center 

Cover graphics and illustrations by Alison Cook, Landscape Architect, National Park Service, Denver 

Service Center 

Publication services were provided by Sandy Schuster, editor, and Judy Dersch, visual information 
specialist. Branch of Publications and Graphic Design, Denver Service Center. 



As the nation's principal conservation agency, the Departnrient of the Interior has responsibility for most 
of our nationally owned public lands and natural resources. This includes fostering sound uze of our land 
and water resources; protecting our fish, wildlife, and biological diversity; preserving the environmental 
and cultural values of our national parks and historical places; and providing for the enjoyment of life 
through outdoor recreation. The department assesses our energy and mineral resources and works to 
ensure that their development is in the best interests of all our people by encouraging stewardship and 
citizen participation in their care. The department also has a major responsibility for American Indian 
reservation communities and for people who live in island territories under U.S. administration. 

The Southwestern Pennsylvania Heritage Preservation Commission is a federally appointed organization 
within the Department of the Interior. The commission is a catalyst for partnership efforts to conserve, 
interpret, and promote the sites, landscapes, and stories of America's industrial heritage in southwestern 
Pennsylvania. Through this conservation and commemoration effort, the commission will also stimulate 
economic development in the region. This product was prepared for the commission through a partnership 
effort with the National Park Service. 

NPS D-94, May 1994 




C > ^ ' United States Department of the Interipi: 

^ Southwestern Pcnnsylvanialye'ritage Preserxatiwi Commission 



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' '.|]|p:^a';SV!LL- National^'^ark Service